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24 homes now reported destroyed in Powerhouse Fire

Toll tops 2007’s Buckweed Fire in terms of residences lost

Posted: June 6, 2013 6:50 p.m.
Updated: June 6, 2013 6:50 p.m.

As the Powerhouse Fire slowly winds down, estimates of the damage it has caused continue to add up.
The most recent damage estimates peg the number of homes destroyed at 24, Angeles National Forest Safety Officer Ron Ashdale said Thursday.

That’s eight more structures then were reported destroyed Wednesday. In addition, an estimated 29 outbuildings and other structures have been destroyed by the Powerhouse Fire, according to Ashdale.

Three homes and one outbuilding were damaged.

The increasing count of destroyed homes is due to updated reports from damage-assessment teams.

“Some people have been asking, ‘How come the numbers went up?’” Ashdale said. “It’s because there’s teams out there physically going through areas.”

The area burned by the Powerhouse Fire was revised downward Thursday to 30,274 acres, Ashdale said. Previous reports put burned acreage at 32,000 acres.

By comparison, the Buckweed Fire of October 2007 charred 38,000 acres and destroyed 21 homes in the Santa Clarita Valley and Agua Dulce. The Buckweed Fire was part of a larger series of blazes in Southern California dubbed the California Fire Siege 2007, which combined to kill 17 people, destroy 3,069 homes and other buildings and blacken more than 500,000 acres.

More recently the Station Fire in August-September 2009 in the Angeles National Forest burned more than 160,000 acres, destroyed 209 structures including 89 homes, and killed two firefighters. That fire spared most of the Santa Clarita Valley but burned into Acton, destroying at least two homes there.

But those disastrous fires occurred during Southern California’s traditional fire season — late summer and fall — when brush is dried out and Santa Ana winds frequently blow.

Ashdale said the Powerhouse Fire is easily the largest he has seen this early in the fire season.

“I’ve been here eight years and I can recall one other (fire) in May, but that was not the size of this one,” Ashdale said. “The last one I remember in May was 400 acres, to put that in perspective.”

While the Powerhouse Fire continues to burn, active flames were limited Thursday to one area west of San Francisquito Canyon Road near the Cottonwood Campground northeast of Castaic Lake.

The fire was reported as 78 percent contained Thursday, but it continued to threaten some 275 residences and close to 75 other structures, Ashdale said.

A structure is determined to be threatened when it lies in an area a fire may spread to, Ashdale said. Fire crews take into account the direction a fire is burning and the direction the wind is blowing when determining if a structure is threatened.

“It’s all based on the current weather and the direction of the fire,” Ashdale said.

Approximately $16 million has been spent to fight the blaze, which has been burning since May 30, Ashdale said. This figure does not include damage to buildings or property.

Some of the cost of fighting the fire is offset by disaster funds, Ashdale said, but the exact amount of federal and state dollars doled out for the Powerhouse Fire will likely not be settled until the full extent of the damage is known.

“Typically that will be something that will be worked out at a later date,” Ashdale said.

Members of the National Interagency Fire Center Burn Area Emergency Response team will begin working through the burn area in the near future, he said.

Part of the concern later in the year will be flooding in the area, as the Powerhouse Fire has obliterated much of the vegetation that would normally retain water.

The response team crews will examine drainage and replant in the area to try to avoid mudslides or other negative aftereffects of the blaze.

“It’s a long-term thing, but initially we are looking at what we need to get done right now,” he said.
Ashdale estimated the fire would be fully contained by Monday.
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