Fire officials say Crown fire situation remains ‘very fluid’


A wildfire that scorched almost 14,000 acres in Northern Los Angeles County continued to threaten thousands of homes Saturday, although fire officials said they appeared to be gaining the upper hand in the days-long battle.

The Crown fire, which has raced across the western Palmdale and Leona Valley areas, was estimated to be 82% contained Saturday afternoon, after destroying four dwellings and five outbuildings. However, Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said that the situation remained “very fluid” and that weather conditions would impact the battle enormously.

Scorching temperatures, steep terrain dotted with hotspots and the prospect of high winds were expected to remain challenges, they said. “When you get a fire this size that produces an enormous amount of heat, you can’t anticipate what might happen,” said county Fire Department Inspector Frederic Stowers.

Some 1,320 firefighters battled the blaze and were aided by six helicopters, four fixed-wing aircraft and a DC-10 air tanker. Cooler temperatures and mild winds helped their efforts late Friday night and early Saturday morning.

Mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted, but on Saturday morning some 2,300 residences were still considered to be threatened, Stowers said. Also, some 60 commercial buildings and more than 100 outbuildings were also considered to be in harm’s way.

Although the risk to commercial and residential property remained, firefighters said the threat to power lines had significantly decreased. Fire officials said most residents have returned home.

At the height of the crisis, which began late Thursday afternoon, almost 200 people sought shelter at an American Red Cross shelter in Palmdale’s Marie Kerr Park, according to Carmela Burke, a spokeswoman for the agency. Just one person slept at the shelter Friday night.

The hills devoured by the inferno were a blackened blanket of smoldering embers. Local cherry farmers expressed relief that their orchards had been spared.

Chuck Fluharty, 62, owner of Northside Cherries, said the fire was east of his ranch, and by late Saturday morning he could not “even see any smoke.”

“I’m 99% sure none of them have been affected,” Fluharty, a retired Los Angeles firefighter, said of the 30 or so families who operate cherry ranches in the Leona Valley area.

An official with the Leona Valley Cherry Growers Assn. said that the annual cherry-picking period had ended two weeks ago and that it had been “a very good season.”

Meanwhile, in the Dalton Canyon area near Glendora, the Los Angeles County Fire Department battled a 15-acre brush fire. It did not threaten any structures and was 80% contained by late Saturday afternoon.

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.