Southern Calif wildfire explodes in size overnight

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Smoke rises from the Powerhouse Fire. (AP Photo)

Smoke rises from the Powerhouse Fire. (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fire that destroyed at least five structures and threatened hundreds of others exploded in size overnight, burning dangerously close to two communities north of Los Angeles.

Erratic wind spread the blaze in the Angeles National Forest to nearly 41 square miles early Sunday, triggering the evacuation of nearly 1,000 homes in Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, officials said.

Matt Corelli of the Forest Service told The Associated Press that five structures had been burned down. He said they could be homes but crews were waiting for more daylight to make a positive determination.

“That’s the only number we have confirmed right now,” he said.

At least 10 other structures were damaged.

Patty Robitaille, 61, grabbed personal photos and documents before fleeing her Lake Hughes home with her pit bull, Roxie, as flames approached Saturday night. She said her home was among the first in the direct path of the fire.

“Driving away, you could see the town burning up,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think there’s going to be much left.”

Crews working in steep terrain expected cooler weather Sunday after triple-digit temperatures a day earlier.

The wind pushed the fire up and down steep slopes, creating embers that sparked spot fires in different directions.

The fire was 20 percent contained.

A huge plume of smoke could be seen from much of various parts of northern Los Angeles County throughout Saturday, and air-quality officials warned against strenuous outdoor activity.

The blaze broke out Thursday just north of Powerhouse No. 1, a hydroelectric plant near the Los Angeles Aqueduct, forcing about 200 evacuations in the mountain community of Green Valley.

Evacuations remained in effect for the Cottonwood campground and two youth probation camps along Lake Hughes Canyon Road.

The flames were chewing thick, dry brush that hasn’t been burned in about a dozen years.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Elsewhere in the West, firefighting crews in New Mexico battled wildfires that have blackened thousands of acres and threatened homes and buildings, spurring numerous evacuations.

An uncontained blaze near Santa Fe, N.M., had spread to nearly 10 square miles by Saturday night, placing the city under a blanket of haze. The thick smoke also covered the Gallinas Canyon and Las Vegas, N.M.

Officials asked residents in about 140 homes, mainly summer residences, to evacuate as a crew of more than 400 battled the flames near the communities of Pecos and Tres Lagunas.

Another New Mexico blaze, the Thompson Ridge fire near Jemez Springs, grew to nearly 2 square miles by Saturday night, state forestry officials said. Between 40 and 50 homes in the area were evacuated as more than 200 crew members and a helicopter were fighting the blaze burning through pine forests and brush.

Forecasters said some rain was possible in both fire areas on Sunday as well as gusty winds.

And in Colorado, a spokesman for the Rio Grande National Forest said a fire 15 miles southwest of the small town of Creede was reported. No structures have been damaged, but three homes and several outbuildings were threatened Saturday.

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