Wildfire Expands North of Los Angeles

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A third major wildfire burning north of Los Angeles swelled to 10,000 acres Wednesday, threatening hundreds of homes on the edge of the Mojave Desert.

It was the third large fire in and around the Angeles National Forest and the latest in a series of blazes that have raged across California unusually early in the year.

"What we're experiencing here in Southern California is pretty much unprecedented," said Jody Noiron, forest supervisor for the Angeles National Forest.

Six hundred homes were evacuated, but residents of all but about 30 were allowed to return by Wednesday evening, national forest spokesman Stanton Florea said. Two homes and a bridge were destroyed Tuesday.

Officials said the fire was 40 percent contained after growing to 10,000 acres in less than 24 hours.

More than 2,300 firefighters battled the blaze in dry brush and timber about 50 miles north of Los Angeles, county fire Capt. Anthony Penn said.

The fire, propelled by winds gusting up to 25 mph, was moving toward an area of scattered homes in three desert communities.

Firefighters were watching the flames closely because the area is thick with thousands of dead juniper and pine trees that were ravaged by six years of drought and an infestation of bark beetles.

"We have things packed and ready to go," Kathy Covington, whose home was in the path of the approaching flames, told KCAL-TV.

Three national forest roads were closed indefinitely, including a popular commuter route from the growing Antelope Valley to Los Angeles.

The cause of the fire was unknown.

Hot, dry weather has helped spread a series of Southern California fires in the past week. Threatened communities have so far avoided the large-scale loss of homes that occurred during wildfires last fall, but officials warned that the fire season is young.

"A lot of us are looking at each other and saying 'Wait a minute, it's mid-July and this is happening,'" said Angeles National Forest spokesman Stanton Florea. "The multiple large fires with this behavior, we usually only see after Aug. 1, and mostly in October when the Santa Ana winds are blowing."

Elsewhere in the countryside north of Los Angeles, a 6,000-acre fire near Santa Clarita was 95 percent contained, as was a 17,418-acre fire near Lake Hughes that destroyed three homes and a dozen outbuildings. All evacuees had been allowed to return home.

In Alaska, crews were battling a 484,000-acre fire on the outskirts of Fairbanks.

The blaze was considered 20 percent contained, but more fires were igniting. Lightning strikes had touched off eight fires since Monday, and one blaze north of Fairbanks had spread from 80 acres on Monday to 4,500 acres Wednesday.

Wind cleared away a smoke cloud that had been hanging over Fairbanks, a day after city officials issued a warning for children and the elderly to stay inside.

Wildfires already have burned 3.6 million acres in Alaska, which has been having one of its worst seasons in years.