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Fire near LA explodes out of control

By HIL ANDERSON

LOS ANGELES, June 6 (UPI) -- A fast-moving brush fire that virtually doubled in size Thursday burned four more homes north of Los Angeles and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents of Green Valley.

As many as 500 homes were ordered evacuated Thursday afternoon in the small bucolic community of Green Valley as the fire, which broke out Wednesday near Saugus, raced through brown, bone-dry brush, pushed by erratic winds, temperatures in the 90s and low humidity.

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"Several hundred people have been evacuated," said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Brian Jordan. "The fire is moving very fast."

Firefighters have been largely unable to get ahead of the fire long enough to carve out an effective containment line and they were unable to save all of the houses in Green Valley.

"We can't have fire trucks everywhere, but we are getting more resources into Southern California," Jordan said late Thursday.

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The fire also posed a threat earlier in the day to a pair of high-tension power lines that supply electricity to the northern Los Angeles area. If the fire were to force the lines to be shut down, large areas of the Los Angeles metro area would experience blackouts unless power was routed around the fire area.

Southern California Edison said late Thursday that the fire had burned away from the 500,000-volt lines, which had complicated firefighting efforts at the same time threatening the area's power supply.

Jordan said air tankers and helicopters could not fly near power lines and the combination of smoke and electricity poses a potentially deadly risk to firefighters on the ground because smoke conducts electricity.

"If the smoke gets thick enough, you can get an arc of about 500,000 volts," Jordan said.

While the rugged terrain was making firefighting difficult, the weather was a major enemy and the conditions were expected to continue for the next few days.

The hot, dry weather in Southern California was expected to spread into Colorado on Friday, increasing the already high fire dangers in the mountains and ending a spell of cool, damp conditions that have allowed firefighters to make significant progress this week against a cluster of fires.

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The largest blaze in Colorado, the 25,400-acre Trinidad Complex near Stonewall, was nearly 60-percent contained Thursday. The 4,400-acre Iron Mountain fire, which had burned some 100 homes around Westcliffe this week, was listed at 95-percent contained.

"Favorable weather conditions contributed to minimal fire activity and crews were constructing hand lines," the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise reported Thursday.

The risk of fire in Colorado and Utah was expected to remain high heading into the weekend with the approach of a low-pressure system from the north that could bring rain to the area, but will first kick up winds that can quickly send a small fire out of control.

"Warmer temperatures and lower humidity will combine with windy conditions to produce severe fire weather conditions ... on Friday," the National Weather Service said. "On Saturday, very windy, dry and warm conditions are expected across all of eastern Utah and western Colorado."

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Gale Norton approved a request Thursday from Gov. Bill Owens, R-Colo., to ban campfires and fireworks on federal lands in the state.

"The severe drought conditions and the impact of wildfires on Colorado make this restriction on the public use of fire and of fireworks on federal lands appropriate and very necessary," said Norton, whose agency manages 30-percent of the land in the state.

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