A state of emergency was declared Tuesday as firefighters continued a fifth day of their battle against a blaze buring north of Los Angeles that has destroyed six homes, prompted evacuations and consumed at least 50 square miles.
The Powerhouse Fire was 60 percent contained as of 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to CAL Fire's latest online update. The fire, which began on the afternoon of March 31 in remote San Francisquito Canyon northeast of the LA suburb of Santa Clarita, has spread to 32,032 acres.
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to declare a local state of emergency for the areas threatened by the Powerhouse Fire. That declaration, officials said, is meant to streamline response and recovery efforts.
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“This declaration will waive regulations which may hinder response and recovery efforts, make recovery assistance available under the California Disaster Assistance Act and enable access to applicable federal, state and local resources and disaster relief assistance,” spokesman Tony Bell said in an email.
The blaze burned in a rugged, mountainous area covered with “heavy old brush” and chaparral, according to an online update published by fire officials on Inciweb. Flames spread through the canyon and traveled northeast toward the western edge of Lancaster and Antelope Valley communities.
The Powerhouse Fire came amid what officials have said is an already fierce fire season that began months early, with giant wildfires scorching vast areas of Southern California in May. A dry winter has caused fuels to burn quickly before summer has even begun.
More than 2,000 firefighters were on the scene of the Powerhouse Fire. Efforts Tuesday were concentrated on an area southwest of the small community of Green Valley, on the fire’s right flank.
"It's nature," said Capt. Clay Porlier of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "I think we've got fuel that hasn't burned in 80, 90 years in some places. It's tough to deal with. ... if something gets going in an area like that, it's one of the hazards people face in rural areas."
Five air tankers and three helicopters battled flames overnight. On Tuesday, 11 helicopters and three air tankers were expected to be put into service as of 7 a.m.
All mandatory evacuation orders – which once affected about 2,000 people – had been lifted. Some communities that had been evacuated were open only to residents.
Several locals gathered on Tuesday morning at Papa’s Country Store in Lake Elizabeth said they have not yet been allowed back to their homes.
Some 275 structures could be threatened if the fire begins moving again and becomes aggressive, fire officials said.
Residents, meanwhile, continued to sift through debris at the burned shells of homes in Lake Hughes.
The greatest concern Tuesday was that the fire might get into the Lake Elizabeth area near Cottonwood Campground, where there is an extreme danger for the flames spreading, fire officials said.