Wildfires Rage in Southern California Forests

A firefighter douses a smoldering tree in a residential neighborhood in the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County, where the Lake Fire burned thousands of acres and forced residents to flee their homes. (Courthouse News photo / Nathan Solis)

CASTAIC LAKE, Calif. (CN) — Fire season in Southern California arrived before the area’s infamous Santa Ana winds that are known to fan flames and feed wildfires. On Friday, three major blazes continued to burn in the region, including two fires burning in the same national forest.

The Lake Fire in northwest Los Angeles County, burning through the Angeles National Forest, grew to 11,600 acres less than two days after it was first reported. The fire is burning through an area of the forest that has not seen fires in 80 to 100 years and fire crews say they’re expecting critical weather conditions on Friday afternoon with strong evening gusts that could combine with hot, dry conditions.

The fire is burning in steep terrain, chewing through thick brush while firefighters on the ground face temperatures that could reach 108 degrees Friday. Crews are using bulldozers to build lines on ridgetops in an effort to keep the fire north of Castaic Lake, a natural landmark and one of the more densely populated communities in the area, according to the Angeles National Forest Service.

Thousands fled their homes Wednesday evening when the fire first exploded to life. At least five structures have been destroyed according to the LA County Fire Department.

By Friday morning, firefighter crews with chainsaws, hand tools and firehoses put out hot spots along Pine Canyon Road in the Angeles National Forest. Several structures appeared destroyed, including at least one home. Downed power poles blocked a driveway and melted trash cans sat next to thin garden hoses strewn about a yard.

The steep terrain surrounding the homes has been denuded and continued to smolder as helicopters made air drops over the area. Fire engines from Alhambra, Long Beach and other parts of Southern California lined the narrow road as they trekked through the secluded neighborhood. Far above, the bulldozers created defensive lines along the ridgelines.

Fire crews are monitoring the burned areas for any flareups and building defensive lines in the event the fire builds up again.

“We’re going to keep building on what we’ve done and keep our fingers crossed,” said LA County Fire spokesman Jake Miller.

The Lake Fire was not aided by strong winds but instead is being described as a terrain fire burning dry brush. Miller said fortunately the fire burned away from homes in the forest.

In addition to daytime highs near 110 and overnight lows that are only expected to drop into the 70s, wind gusts of 15 miles an hour could ramp up to 20 miles per hour Friday evening according to the National Weather Service.

The Lake Fire is just 12% contained.

A second fire burning in the San Gabriel Mountains about 30 miles east of the Lake Fire is the Ranch 2 Fire, which is also burning the Angeles National Forest. That blaze has grown to 2,500 acres and was first reported late Thursday afternoon, according to Cal Fire. As of Friday morning, the blaze was zero percent contained.

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for the Santa Clarita Valley, San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley, where the Lake Fire and Ranch Fire are burning.

Even farther east in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the Apple Fire is nearly contained after burning 33,424 acres over a 14-day period. That fire was started by a diesel vehicle sending hot embers into dry brush which eventually burned into the San Bernardino National Forest according to fire investigators.

Fire investigators say the Ranch Fire is an act of arson and local police are searching for a suspect who was last seen at a riverbed encampment near where the fire was started.

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