Drought drives Powerhouse fire to 32,000 acres

  • Horses at risk of being trapped by the Powerhouse fire were released by firefighters on Monday. The animals ran between 170th and 190th Streets West, where the First Solar Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1 was threatened by the fire. Los Angeles County Animal Control came to help round up the horses. This photo is by Jeff Zimmerman, a retired U.S. Forest Service firefighter who lives in Neenach.

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    Horses at risk of being trapped by the Powerhouse fire were released by firefighters on Monday. The animals ran between 170th and 190th Streets West, where the First Solar Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1 was threatened by the fire. Los Angeles County Animal Control came to help round up the horses. This photo is by Jeff Zimmerman, a retired U.S. Forest Service firefighter who lives in Neenach.

  • A DC-10 drops retardant during a very low pass over the Powerhouse fire. The fire started May 30 in the Green Valley area and quickly gained momentum, devouring over 32,000 acres. [photo by Jeff Zimmerman]

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    A DC-10 drops retardant during a very low pass over the Powerhouse fire. The fire started May 30 in the Green Valley area and quickly gained momentum, devouring over 32,000 acres. [photo by Jeff Zimmerman]

  • An L.A. County firefighter knocks down Powerhouse fire flames. [photo by Gunnar Kuepper]

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    An L.A. County firefighter knocks down Powerhouse fire flames. [photo by Gunnar Kuepper]

By Patric Hedlund

Fire officials lifted all evacuation orders by noon on Wednesday, June 5 for the Powerhouse fire. Residents from Lake Hughes, Elizabeth Lake, Green Valley and parts of the Fairmont-Neenach area of the Western Antelope Valley had been evacuated during the battle with the blaze. Over the last few days residents have been returning to their homes to determine the extent of the damage.

The fire started on Thursday afternoon, May 30. Hot weather with gusty winds and a tinderbox of dense, dry chaparral on steep slopes helped to propel the blaze at dizzying speed.

As we go to press, statistics from official sources say that the fire has torn across 32,032 acres, destroying 16 structures and threatening 275 others. About $12 million has been spent to bring the fire into 70% containment.

Since the Grand fire earlier in May, firefighters had been warning that fuels throughout this region were as dry in May as they typically are at the end of August.

The Powerhouse fire aggressively clawed across 25,000 acres in its first three days, beginning near a pump house belonging to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in San Francisquito Canyon near Green Valley. Green Valley was evacuated. To the southeast, the fire burned through steep and inaccessible terrain, less than 20% controlled.

By Saturday, June 1 smoke from the Powerhouse fire loomed over Lebec and Frazier Park. From 6-8 p.m. on Saturday about 200 homes were evacuated from Lake Hughes Road, east. Voluntary evacuations began from Elizabeth Lake after 11 p.m. A church camp called The Oaks on Pine Canyon Road (a mile west of Lake Hughes Road) was evacuated.

Seven miles northwest of Elizabeth Lake, Three Points resident Susan Zahnter said she had just returned from Lake Hughes. Thick smoke turned the daylight into dusk  and the roar of the fire and aircraft was deafening as the sky rained ashes.

“It is horrible,” she said. At 10:15 p.m. her family was packing to be prepared to leave. Earlier that day in Lake Hughes,“the flames are coming over into town, traveling north toward Pine Canyon Road and Lake Hughes Road, then across Pine Canyon to Portal Ridge toward Lake Hughes,” Zahnter reported. Some structures were lost there. “Right now it is burning toward us. It still is out of control. It is a desperate situation.”

Zahnter, vice president of the Three Points Rural Town Council, spoke while packing: “We’re not in a dire panic, but I’ve warned my neighbors to move their livestock.

Los Angeles County Animal Control brought pickup trucks with cages into Lake Hughes to take pets to the Avenue I Animal Shelter near Lancaster. Larger animals were taken to the fairgrounds.
The number of firefighters called to suppress the Powerhouse fire grew to 2,114; 11 helicopters and 8 fixed wing tankers joined the struggle, including a DC-10.

Retired U.S. Forest Service firefighter Jeff Zimmerman, of Neenach, said they painted the ridges on the west side of the fire to stop its advance before it could enter Kings Canyon, a densely populated and steep area along 205th Street West.

On Monday the Powerhouse fire crawled across the mountains into the Western Antelope Valley. It crossed Lancaster Road, rushing across the desert toward the Fairmont area, including the First Solar Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1) facility on 170th Street West.

As the fire threatened barns and corrals along Lancaster Road, firefighters freed horses. Zimmerman said they galloped between 170th and 190th Streets for about two hours until animal control arrived to help round them up.

On Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors passed a local state of emergency proclamation.

Zahnter told The Mountain Enterprise, “We are still watching the fire in the forest areas west of Lake Hughes Road continuing to burn toward our community.”

On the same day, M&M Peach Ranch owner William Basner said the fire had turned to the north before coming over the ridge to his peach and cherry trees.

“We’re not threatened,” Basner said, “it turned down toward the valley before it got to us.” Basner’s ranch is on Three Points Road, just a mile and a half south of Highway 138.

Now, on Wednesday, with 70% containment, firefighters—and residents—are turning to clean-up and recovery.

This is part of the June 7, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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