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California wildfire explodes in size, burns homes

By Christopher Weber

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, June 2 2013 7:06 p.m. MDT

A sign shows gratitude to the firefighters who saved homes from the Powerstation fire in Lake Hughes on Sunday, June 2, 2013. Erratic winds fanned a blaze in the Angeles National Forest to nearly 41 square miles early Sunday, after fast-moving flames triggered the evacuation of nearly 1,000 homes in Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, officials said.

Los Angeles Times, Genaro Molina) NO FORNS; NO SALES; MAGS OUT; ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER OUT; LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS OUT; VENTURA COUNTY STAR OUT; INLAND VALLEY DAILY BULLETIN OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT, TV OUT, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A fire that destroyed six homes and threatened hundreds of others exploded in size over the weekend as it burned dangerously close to two communities north of Los Angeles and into unoccupied desert wilderness.

Erratic wind spread the blaze in the Angeles National Forest to nearly 41 square miles early Sunday, triggering the evacuation of hundreds of homes in Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, officials said.

Crews continued to protect more than 1,000 homes at the edge of the rural hamlets of Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth in Angeles National Forest.

Nathan Judy of the U.S. Forest Service told The Associated Press that six homes burned overnight, and teams were waiting to assess at least 10 more structures that may have been damaged.

At least 10 other structures were damaged.

Patty Robitaille, 61, grabbed personal photos and documents before fleeing her Lake Hughes home with her pit bull, Roxie, as flames approached Saturday night. She said her home was among the first in the direct path of the fire.

"Driving away, you could see the town burning up," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't think there's going to be much left."

Mark Wadsworth, 64, said he was confident his house in Lake Elizabeth survived. He spent Sunday parked in his truck atop a ridge, watching plumes of smoke rise from the canyons below.

"I've got nowhere to go, so I'm just waiting for them to open the roads again and let me back in," said Wadsworth. "I didn't want to go to a shelter."

The Red Cross opened evacuation centers in Palmdale and Lancaster. At Palmdale's Marie Kerr Park Recreation Center, more than 100 residents awaited word on when they could return home.

The fire chewed thick brush that hadn't burned in about a dozen years as wind pushed flames up and down steep slopes. The fire was 20 percent contained.

A huge plume of smoke could be seen from much of various parts of northern Los Angeles County throughout Saturday, and air-quality officials warned against strenuous outdoor activity.

The blaze broke out Thursday just north of Powerhouse No. 1, a hydroelectric plant near the Los Angeles Aqueduct, forcing about 200 evacuations in the mountain community of Green Valley.

Evacuations remained in effect for several campgrounds and two youth probation camps. Several roads were closed.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Elsewhere in the West, crews fighting two large uncontained wildfires in New Mexico focused Sunday on building protection lines around the blazes amid anticipation that a forecast of storms could bring moisture to help reduce the intensity of the fires.

Still, the forecast thunderstorms also bring the possibility of lightning that could start new fires and gusty winds that could help spread the blazes.

A fire burning in New Mexico's Santa Fe National Forest 25 miles from Santa Fe had grown to more than 11 square miles by Sunday morning.

Thick smoke from the fire covered Gallinas Canyon and Las Vegas, N.M.

The fire near the communities of Pecos and Tres Lagunas had prompted the evacuations of about 140 homes, most of them summer residences.

Crews also cleared out campgrounds and closed trailheads in the area as they worked to prevent the fire from moving toward the capital city's watershed and more populated areas.

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