Firefighters launched an aerial assault Friday as part of a stepped-up campaign to tame a wind-driven wildfire that has consumed more than 13,000 acres in Los Angeles County's High Desert, threatening hundreds of homes.
The Crown fire forced the evacuation of 300 homes and destroyed several structures. At one point, the fire jumped the California Aqueduct and was bearing down on homes in the Rancho Vista subdivision in western Palmdale but was quickly diverted.
More than 1,700 fighters, assisted by five water-dropping helicopters and a DC-10 aircraft, used to drop fire retardant, helped bring the Leona Valley fire to 20% containment by late Friday, officials said. A 747 tanker was also deployed to help battle the blaze.
"Public safety is our No. 1 priority, and the faster we jump into action the better it is," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters after being briefed by fire officials during a visit to the site. "We are deploying everything that we've got."
Schwarzenegger said several fires were raging around the state and that a total of 30,000 acres had been burned so far and 34 structures destroyed.
In L.A. County, the Briggs fire, which burned more than 350 acres south of the 14 Freeway at Indian Canyon Truck Trail and Briggs Road, had been brought under control by Friday. A third fire near Gorman burned about 30 acres Thursday before it was extinguished.
In neighboring Kern County, cooler temperatures helped firefighters contain two wildfires that had burned more than 17,000 acres and destroyed dozens of structures in remote mountain communities earlier in the week.
Fire officials said their strategy on the Crown fire, which broke out late Thursday afternoon, was to contain the fire and keep it from spreading but that winds gusts of up to 50 mph were making it difficult. The air was bone dry, and temperatures had soared into the high 90s.
"It is very difficult to limit growth when Mother Nature is not cooperating," said Deputy Chief Michael Bryant of the L.A. County Fire Department.
Three trailers, a single-family home and two garages were destroyed on the Lazy T Ranch in the Leona Valley, fire officials said. Near Lake Elizabeth Road, one house had roof damage, and three out-buildings and a hay barn were destroyed.
Residents of a housing development on Elizabeth Lake Road were being asked to stay put as firefighters formed a containment perimeter around them, authorities said.
A top priority for firefighters was to protect power lines throughout the area that bring electricity to much of Southern California, Bryant said. He noted that some communication infrastructure, such as antennas and electronic repeater dishes, had been damaged, but this had not hampered the communication capabilities for battling the blaze, he said.
The L.A. Department of Water and Power requested that residents reduce their energy usage wherever possible.
"We're asking people to help care for our infrastructure while this fire is burning, as we wait for the potential threat to diminish," said Brooks Baker, a spokesman for the agency.
Officials said the agency minimized power imports Friday on a transmission line that passes through the Leona Valley and began generating power at closer power plants to deliver energy to the city.
Brooks said there were no fire-related outages Friday. A small number of Southern California Edison customers were less lucky.
With "multiple" transmission and distribution lines threatened, Edison officials said 21 customers were without service in Lancaster, most of them south of Elizabeth Lake Road. Those customers had been without power since late Thursday afternoon, and it was unclear when service would be restored.
The cause of the Crown fire has not been determined. But the investigation into its origin focuses on a vacant lot where workers were apparently using a hammer to extract bolts from tire rims, according to Bryant. No illegal activity appeared to be involved, and workers involved were cooperating with fire and law enforcement officials, he said.