Extreme Danger of Wildfire Persists As Firefighters Battle the Creek Fire

SYLMAR (CNS) - As an ``extreme'' danger of wildfire persisted in the Angeles National Forest, fire officials predict crews battling the Creek Fire are about a week away from achieving full containment of the blaze, which has destroyed dozens of homes and scorched more than 15,600 acres in the hills above Sylmar.

The fire remained 98 percent contained as of Thursday night, with full containment expected by midnight on Dec. 23, according to Cal Fire.

The firefighting force was reduced nearly by half Thursday as the Los Angeles city and county fire departments ended their unified command arrangement and fire management responsibilities reverted to Angeles National Forest officials, authorities said. A little more than 300 firefighters were deployed Wednesday and 166 firefighters battled the blaze Thursday.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, about 80 percent of the burned area has affected Angeles National Forest lands, and Forest Supervisor Jeffrey Vail Thursday ordered the closure of about 21,000 acres of the forest within and surrounding the Creek Fire perimeter.

``All Forest Service roads and trails within the closure area, including the Oak Springs Trailhead, are closed to the public,'' Vail said. ``The public is urged to use caution when driving in and around the area as fire equipment and crews remain in the vicinity.

``Additionally, intermittent closures may occur due to ongoing power restoration efforts.''

The Angeles National Forest elevated its fire danger level to ``extreme'' Thursday and fire restrictions are now in effect throughout the forest. They include: no campfires, no open flame, no barbecues, and no grilling.

More information is available at www.fs.usda.gov/angeles.

The wind-driven blaze broke out at 3:42 a.m. on Dec. 5. Over the weekend, more than 1,700 firefighters continued to patrol the area in Sylmar and improve lines of cleared vegetation. National Weather Service forecasters expect fire weather in the area to extend at least to late Friday morning.

The fire has destroyed 60 homes and 63 outbuildings, damaged another 55 homes and 26 outbuildings, and scorched 15,619 acres, Cal Fire reported. Currently, 2,500 structures continue to be threatened. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Although the cause of the blaze remains under investigation, the Los Angeles Times reported that witnesses saw a snapped line on a high-voltage transmission tower in Little Tujunga Canyon that sent off sparks as it whipped high overhead at the start of the fire.

Southern California Edison reported Tuesday that investigators are looking into whether the utility's facilities played a role in starting any of the region's fires, which broke out amid strong Santa Ana winds capable of downing trees, branches and power lines, and of rapidly spreading fires.

Evacuation orders first issued last Tuesday affected about 150,000 households citywide, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said ``thousands upon thousands of homes'' had been protected. All evacuation orders were lifted at 6 p.m. last Friday, and all roads shut down because of the fire have reopened, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Virginia Padilla, whose family owns a ranch in Sylmar, told reporters the fire killed at least 30 of the ranch's horses. She said she and her family were able to get out of her home just in time Tuesday morning but were not able to take their horses with them.

All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and some on Los Angeles' Westside -- a total of 265 district schools and charter schools -- were closed last Friday. The schools reopened Monday.

Photo: Getty Images

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