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14,000-acre Southern California 'Crown Fire' at 82% containment, evacuation orders lifted

A CAL FIRE air tanker drops Phos-Chek slurry on the Crown Fire
Image: Thomas Hays (Flickr).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Antelope Valley, California — The Crown Fire that has burned through 13,980 acres in the High Desert of Southern California since 2:32 pm (2232 UTC) Thursday was at 82% containment Saturday evening, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

On Friday high winds caused the fire to jump the California Aqueduct and spread into the city of Palmdale. Over 2,000 residents of Leona Valley, Ana Verde, and Rancho Vista were given mandatory evacuation orders. The sky was blanketed with thick orange pyrocumulus clouds and falling ash, making the air hard to breathe.

State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in Palmdale on Friday to survey the burned areas. "We were very fortunate to not have fires for quite some time because the air temperature was cool and we didn't have the experiencing of dry weather and all the winds and so on, but all of a sudden the fire season kicked in as if, 'Here we are,'" Schwarzenegger said during a press conference. "But we are ready and we have luckily distributed resources all over the state of California, so we are ready at any given time."

The fire has so far destroyed one house and three mobile homes, damaging the roof of another and burning car garages, horse stables, and other outbuildings. Most of the more seriously threatened homes were constructed recently from fire-proof materials, with walls coated in stucco, and fire-resistant plants in the yards. Although some roads are still closed to all traffic, all existing evacuation orders were lifted late Friday night and 500 residents of Rancho Vista were told to "shelter in place" until further notice. Despite the absence of mandatory evacuation orders, over 2,000 houses, 60 commercial buildings, and 100 outbuildings are still under threat.

Two LACFD Fire Hawk helicopters protect one Antelope Valley home
Image: Thomas Hays (Flickr).

Throughout the night, fire crews have been battling the wildfire, assisted by cooler temperatures and lighter-than-expected winds which have enabled them to establish containment lines. "Crews went out [Friday] night and did some great work trying to complete more lines and also trying to take care of what we call 'cat eyes' which are embers within the perimeter of the fire, so there will be much more work being done there today," said LACFD Captain Roland Sprewell. "But of course we're not going to rest on our laurels today...we're going to be vigilantly watching the winds, especially in the ridge and down in the valleys."

At the height of the fire, 1,700 firefighters from all over California were battling the flames, although as of 12:00 pm Saturday afternoon, it has been reduced to around 1,350 personnel. 16 fire camp crew have also assisted. 250 fire engines and four bulldozers have been used. In the air, 4 Boeing 747 supertankers, 1 McDonnell Douglas DC-10 tanker, and 6 modified Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters known as "Firehawks" have been dropping water and red Phos-Chek slurry. The Los Angeles Sheriffs Department also increased its presence in the Antelope Valley by bringing in response teams from stations outside the AV. This afternoon, the deployment has been scaled back to three teams as the fire stabilizes and further evacuation orders become unlikely.

Three firefighters have been injured battling the fire, although all injuries are minor. One sheriff deputy was also hospitalized for smoke inhalation but has since been released.

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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.