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Crown Fire guts homes

Large wildfire threatens Leona Valley, Palmdale as it moves northeast, sparing the Santa Clarita Val

Posted: July 30, 2010 9:11 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Leona Valley resident Ruth Balas lowers her dust mask Friday as she describes Thursday night’s evacuation from her home.

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The Crown Fire scorched more than 13,000 acres in the Antelope Valley as it continued to move north toward Palmdale. The blaze also destroyed several structures by Friday night.

The fire erupted in Acton on Thursday and has since moved quickly and steadily northeast. Firefighters had the brush fire 20-percent contained Friday night. There were no forced evacuations Friday night.

Three mobile homes and one house were completely burned, Los Angeles County fire Inspector Matt Levesque said Friday morning. Flames also destroyed a hay barn and two detached garages and damaged the roof of another house, he said.

Firefighters were trying to protect several Southern California Edison power lines that provide electricity to much of Los Angeles County, he said. However, that poses additional danger to firefighters.

“Power lines pose a significant threat to aircraft,” Levesque said. “We’ll do the best we can, but smoke can conduct electricity where the firefighters are.”

Several small spot fires, sparked by embers from the bigger blaze, flared up around Leona Valley on Friday.

Peter Weilbacher, 34, was helping to protect his parents’ home on Godde Hill Road near the Villa de Sol Sweet Cherry Farm. 

The fire on Godde Hill Road began as a small spot fire, but afternoon wind gusts pushed the flames towards a couple of homes, according to firefighter Dan Olivas from Fire Station 16. That area included the home of Weilbacher’s parents.

Weilbacher was carrying a shovel and moving fire hoses, while 100 yards away from the canyon home, dozens of firefighters battled the blaze.

The fire burned up to his parents’ chain-link fence, Weilbacher said.

“We’ve had fires around here, but never this close,” he said. “It looked like it was done last night, but then the wind kicked up and it started burning all around us.”

Helicopters and airplanes were dumping thousands of gallons of water and fire retardant onto the fire.

Leona Valley residents were trying to recover from the blaze Friday morning.

Ruth Balas, who lives in a home near the Lazy T Ranch, didn’t sleep Thursday night, fearing her house would burn down. She took her things and left when residents were ordered to evacuate, she said.

“The flames were all around,” Balas said.

Balas was back at her house Friday to get anything else she might need if the fire comes back and threatens her home again. A mobile home near her house was destroyed in the fire, she said.

“We kept hearing from the news that the ranch had burned,” Balas. “I didn’t sleep at all (Thursday). I called my house at 3 a.m. and my answering machine picked up, so I knew my house didn’t burn down.”

But not every homeowner was as fortunate.

A home at the 4800 block of Elizabeth Lake Road was destroyed Thursday. Only the front doorway and chimney remained standing; beyond the doorway, there was nothing but a 3-foot-tall pile of ashen rubble, still being licked by small flames.

Scattered roof tiles and broken blue flower pots littered the front of the home.

A black Chevrolet SUV had been left near the home. Its passenger-side mirror was melted, and the driver’s-side windows were blown out, leaving shards of glass strewn around the SUV.

On the opposite end of the house, two charred bicycles were twisted together in a pile of rubble and metal.

“This is our biggest loss,” said Jerri Meehan, a situation-unit leader who was taking pictures of the damage for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “We come out here and assess the damage so we can place a value on it. It’s a total loss.”

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