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Powerhouse fire evacuees prepare to return home soon

PetsAmerican Red Cross

Residents evacuated from the Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes areas woke up to some good news Monday after their second night at an evacuation center.

Shortly after 8 a.m., fire officials announced that hand crews and bulldozers had made major gains on the fire line overnight. The blaze was now 40% contained.

"All right!" shouted some of the 50 or so residents gathered in the community center at Marie Kerr Park as they ate oatmeal and sipped coffee. 

"Our actions last night were very aggressive," said Keith Mora of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, who was at the center giving residents periodic updates. "Part of our strategy today obviously is to get you back to your homes." 

Mora warned, however, that downed power lines and hot spots needed to be dealt with before the area could be considered fully safe.

"I'm really optimistic about today," Mora said. "A few days in a shelter is horrible, I understand. Let's just give it a little more time."

Tony Akins, also with the county fire department, said some of the largest fire engines will be demobilized Monday, mainly because they are too big to easily navigate the steep, densely covered terrain and because the threat to homes had been abated.

Some residents seemed in good spirits after being assured their homes were safe.

Kim and Keith Winckler, of Lake Elizabeth, received a call at 2 a.m. Sunday from a neighbor who had stayed, telling them their home had been spared.

On Saturday night, their car had already been packed with clothes, birth certificates and photo albums by the time deputies arrived to tell them to leave.

The couple left dirty dishes in the sink and piled their dog, cat and two teenagers into the car and went to a motel.

"We thought we'd spend the night in the hotel and go home. Not the case," Kim Winckler said.

Sunday morning, they went to the evacuation center and stayed glued to the TV there while their son, 17, constantly checked Twitter for updates. The family helped unload supplies from volunteers as they arrived.

"It was really amazing the community reacted the way it did," Kim Winckler said.

Keith Winckler said of the donations: "They have stuff stacked to the rafters here."

Red Cross volunteers said 149 people were registered at the evacuation center Sunday night, yet all but 67 stayed in the parking lot to be with their pets.

Many residents gathered around the center's TV as they ate breakfast. They fell silent when the news turned to the fire, then called out as they recognized neighbors — and sometimes themselves — in the news reports.

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christine.maiduc@latimes.com

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