Southern California wildfire threatens major power lines

Friday, June 7, 2002

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- A wildfire raging across 10,000 acres in Los Angeles County burned at least five homes Thursday and forced about 1,000 people to flee the area, fire officials said.

At one point, the blaze threatened to trigger rolling blackouts as it burned under power lines supplying Southern California, said Paul Klein, spokesman for Southern California Edison. But the threat of blackouts passed by evening as the fire began to burn away from the lines.

About 1,000 people in the rural Green Valley area about 10 miles north of Santa Clarita were ordered to leave, said inspector Armando Carrillo of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. At least five homes were destroyed, Carrillo said.

"It's an inferno right now," said California Highway Patrol Officer Doug Sweeney, who was escorting residents out of town. "It's quite difficult for everyone concerned, they're panicking."

Residents of a rehabilitation center in Warm Springs and state inmates who were working as volunteer firefighters evacuated from their camps, said fire inspector Kurt Schaefer.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but authorities considered it suspicious. The blaze was about 20 percent contained Thursday night.

"High temperatures, erratic winds and steep terrain are making fighting the fire very difficult," said fire Capt. Brian Jordan.

Many residents who had been at work as the fire grew tried to return to their homes but were turned away by authorities.

"They said I may lose my house tomorrow," said Green Valley resident Chris Lawrence, tears welling in his eyes.

The wildfire is among the largest that have burned across more than 25,000 acres of California brush and forest since last week.

To the northwest in Ventura County, more than 1,700 firefighters and nearly two-dozen aircraft battled a wildfire burning over more than 11,700 acres in Los Padres National Forest north of Ojai, a community of 7,900.

The blaze has destroyed four ranch structures.

In the San Bernardino National Forest 60 miles east of Los Angeles, a blaze covering 2,688 acres was 95 percent surrounded.

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