‘Explosive’ LA County Wildfire Devours 10,500 Acres in Less Than a Day

Officials with the Angeles National Forest captured this view of the Lake Fire Wednesday afternoon. (Credit: Angeles National Forest)

(CN) — An explosive forest fire in Los Angeles County that grew to over 10,000 acres in just a few hours on Wednesday saw its growth slow overnight thanks to cloud cover and monsoonal moisture blanketing the southland.

By Thursday morning, the Lake Fire had grown to 10,500 acres and forced the evacuation of some residents. And while the weather is helping firefighters now, a heatwave is on the horizon that will bring triple-digit temperatures and low humidity for the weekend and into next week.

The blaze, burning in the Lake Hughes area of the Angeles National Forest was first reported as a brush fire around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Within minutes the fire grew to 100 acres, according to Angeles Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia. The blaze exploded to several thousand acres within hours.

Over 5,000 structures are threatened by the fire and at least three have been destroyed as of Thursday morning, but it’s not clear if any were homes. The fire is burning through steep terrain and creating spot fires that expand the blaze through the area, according to fire officials. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The fire continues to threaten the communities of Lake Hughes, Leona Valley, Lake Elizabeth, Pine Canyon, Quail Lake, Three Points, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It is burning through an area of the forest that has not seen a fire in the last century.

Garcia described the situation as “pretty explosive fire behavior” at a Wednesday evening briefing.

The fire is early in the typical fire season and was not aided by the strong Santa Ana Winds that rake the region in the autumn months. But by Wednesday evening, the winds picked up and spread the fire, causing what appeared to be a fire tornado. Winds of up to 25 miles an hour also kicked up in the area Thursday afternoon.

“We did have firefighters actively fighting the fires all night,” said Osby. “We can say that many structures were saved because of the actions of the firefighters last night.”

Captain Rod Schaffer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said due to the ongoing Covid-19 protocols, anyone forced to leave their home cannot stay in temporary shelters usually set up by the Red Cross. The Red Cross said residents will have to stay in their cars overnight if they do not have any nearby relatives or can’t find a hotel.

A firefighters battles the Lake Fire near Lake Hughes in the Angeles National Forest on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, north of Los Angeles , Calif. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Firefighters from multiple fire agencies across southern California responded to the Lake Fire, which is 0% contained and remains erratic.

In total, 173 fire engines, 13 hand crews, 4 bulldozers, 5 water tankers and 3 helicopters are actively battling the fire. And 1,059 firefighters are involved in those efforts according to the LA County Fire Department.

The large smoke plume could be seen from multiple areas of LA County, including the Venice Beach neighborhood and Pasadena about 60 miles away.

As is often the case during fire seasons that have grown in duration over the last several decades, the Lake Fire is burning up federally owned land.

Nearly half of California’s 100 million acres are managed by the federal government, including the Angeles National Forest — one of the most fire-prone areas in the country.

California politicians have long contended the federal government should be more proactive in managing forests but have largely been unsuccessful in pushing President Donald Trump and Congress in recent years to boost the U.S. Forest Service’s fire prevention budget.

But the sides made progress Thursday as they announced a new partnership intended to reduce fuels and improve the health of millions of acres of forestland.

Under the agreement, the state and forest service plan to treat at least 1 million acres per year, develop a 20-year prevention game plan, implement new “ecologically sound” tactics including more prescribed burns, and find green strategies to recycle timber and waste.

“Wildfires don’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries,” said Governor Gavin Newsom in a statement. “As we respond to wildfires in real-time this summer, improving coordination between the major stewards of California’s forested land will help us protect communities and restore forest health across California.”

To the east in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the Apple Fire has so far burned 33,400 acres since it began 12 days ago. Steep rugged terrain means firefighters aren’t able to physically access pockets of the fire, so helicopters are doing water drops to suppress the flames.

Evacuation orders in the area have been lifted, but the San Gorgonio Wilderness remains closed.

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