July 31, 2010 in Nation/World

Wildfire jumps aqueduct in California high desert

Jacob Adelman Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A house catches on fire on Thursday in Leona Valley, Calif. About 2,000 homes were under evacuation Friday.
(Full-size photo)

PALMDALE, Calif. – A huge wildfire in the high desert wilderness north of Los Angeles jumped an aqueduct on Friday, rushing toward hundreds of houses as firefighters also tried to keep flames from damaging power lines that bring electricity to Southern California.

Some 2,000 structures were threatened and 300 homes were evacuated, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said.

In the Amber Ridge subdivision, Barbara Murphy, 62, said she decided to stay put even though she and other residents in the development had lost power. She said she felt secure in the center of the subdivision and had come through several fires unscathed during her decades living in the Antelope Valley.

“I’ve lived here for 43 years and I’ve never left the scene of a fire,” she said.

Winds apparently carried embers across the wide concrete channel, with flames rapidly spreading to backyard fences at the edge of Palmdale. Plumes of smoke streamed across the city of 139,000 as a predicted afternoon increase in winds finally arrived.

Helicopters dipped buckets into the aqueduct to make rapid water drops. No homes immediately appeared to have been damaged. Numerous fire engines were in the area. A giant Boeing 747 supertanker arrived over Palmdale to join the battle.

“As you see, we are deploying everything that we’ve got,” Schwarzenegger said at the fire command post.

Sustained winds of 10 mph to 20 mph were reported, said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Matt Levesque.

“We are actively moving resources to defend that area,” he said.

Most of the homes in the area, however, are of recent construction with fire resistant roofs, stucco walls, boxed eaves and landscaped with fire-resistant vegetation, he said. No evacuations were ordered but were recommended.

Temperatures neared 100 degrees with single-digit relative humidity and the National Weather Service predicted gusts in the area up to 50 mph Friday night.

Elsewhere in the battle, aircraft bombarded flames on ridges above the Antelope Valley on the southern edge of the Mojave Desert, while 1,370 firefighters working in high heat sought to outflank the blaze no matter which way it moved.

The blaze spread rapidly after breaking out at midafternoon Thursday, triggering overnight evacuations of about 2,000 homes.

Southern California Edison said the fire threatened five high-voltage transmission lines, but customers were not expected to be affected if the utility lost those lines.

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