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Evacuation lifted in Acton

Posted: September 1, 2009 10:54 p.m.
Updated: September 1, 2009 11:10 p.m.

Hundreds of Acton residents listen to L.A. County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant as he uses a large map to detail fire fighting efforts against the Station Fire at High Desert Middle School on Tuesday.

With the battle against the Station Fire tipping in favor of firefighters on Tuesday, L.A. County fire officials opened up parts of Acton to residents locked out by mandatory evacuations.

Agua Dulce Canyon, Crown Valley, Soledad Canyon and Bootlegger Canyon roads were opened to residents Tuesday night. Aliso Canyon Road could open by 6 p.m. today, said Mike Bryant, Los Angeles County fire deputy chief.

"We have crews working to ensure the fires don't cross these black lines," Bryant said, pointing at a map during a meeting Tuesday night in Acton. The black lines indicated containment lines.

"By tomorrow night at 6 p.m., everyone will be back in their homes," Bryant said.

The crowd of more than 250 applauded the news.

Acton residents have kept a constant eye on the hills east of the town since the fire, which erupted Wednesday in La Canada Flintridge, made its way over the San Gabriel Mountains and down the north side.

On Sunday night those hills resembled an inferno, with flames rising more than 100 feet in the air advancing on the town. Two homes on Aliso Canyon Road were destroyed.

By Tuesday night Acton looked like a different town. Most of the smoke that had choked the small rural community had lifted, and flames were no longer pressing down on homes.

"I think it's safe enough to go back," said Dick Morris of the Acton-Agua Dulce Town Council. "Most of the brush was burned during the fire two years ago."

Fire crews took the fight to the fire Tuesday, increasing containment on the blaze from 5 percent to 22 percent by 5 p.m. By then the fire had blackened some 200 square miles.

"I'm feeling a lot more optimistic today than I did yesterday, and the crews are doing fabulous work out there on the grounds, but the bottom line is that they're fighting for every foot," said Mike Dietrich of the U.S. Forest Service.

The fire continued to spread in wilderness, but Dietrich said the containment figure was expected to rise. He noted that bulldozers had carved up to 12 miles of lines and no new structures were lost Monday night.

The mood among many Acton residents who came to High Desert Middle School to hear fire officials give their report was overwhelmingly upbeat.

"I'm very grateful," said Ann Green, 50, of Acton. "There is stuff to talk about later, like the flow of reliable information from the county to the public, but that's not what we need to talk about right now. We need to be grateful."

Green's comments came on the heels of criticism launched by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich at Los Angeles County's public information office for not posting fire information on the Web site.

Antonovich also blasted the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management for botching a 911 phone alert to the residents of La Canada Flintridge.

Larry Speelman, 58, of Lancaster teaches science at High Desert Middle School in Acton. He hopes the Station Fire doesn't delay the opening day of school in Acton, which is scheduled for Sept. 8.

"I hope the evacuation is lifted and we can start school on time," Speelman said.

With a large swath of the Angeles National Forest decimated by the fire, some residents wondered about the number of years it will take before the scenic Angeles Crest Highway will offer motorist its usual spectacular views.

However, Kristina Duvalois, 44, of Acton put some perspective on the destruction.

"Losing structures and people is never a good thing, and losing firefighters is the worst, but the trees and the brush, it will grow back," she said.

The expected date of final containment on the Station Fire is Sept. 15.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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