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Powerhouse fire: ‘Driving away, you could see the town burning up’

Lake Hughes resident Patty Robitaille, 61, sat in her car Saturday night and watched the Powerhouse fire burning at the top of a nearby hill.

Inside the vehicle, her pit bull, Roxie, slept amid dozens of the belongings Robitaille was able to grab before she was forced to evacuate.

“I grabbed pictures and documents,” Robitaille said.

PHOTOS: Powerhouse fire

The Cal Trans employee said she had pulled over at the intersection of Johnson and Elizabeth Lake roads to wait for her boyfriend and son, who stayed behind to water their house.

Robitaille said her home was among the first in the direct path of the fire. Her home sits on Muir Drive and Lake Hughes Road, near the lake.

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She said the fire had burned on the ridge of the mountain at 6:15 p.m. Within an hour, the flames had reached the back of her home.

MAP: Evacuation areas, road closures and more

“It kept going and going,” Robitaille said. “Driving away, you could see the town burning up,” she added. “I don’t think there’s going to be much left.”

She said she noticed flames near Hughes-Elizabeth Lakes Union Elementary School, the Lancaster Fire station and the post office. The buildings sit along the north side of Lake Elizabeth Road.

“It was horrible,” Robitaille said. “Everything happened fast.”

Across the intersection, in a small empty lot, Elizabeth Lake resident Sara Ford, 43, waited in her SUV for her husband and two sons. They too, she said, had stayed behind to protect their home.

Ford said her home is in the Club Ranch area, which sits on the western part of the Elizabeth Lake Golf Course.

“We have had fires out here before, but this is the closest that it’s ever been in my 18 years of living here,” Ford said.

At 11:35 p.m. the fire had burned slightly down the side of the hill. The air got smokier and the orange glow in the sky turned brighter as the flames grew. Ash fell everywhere.

A squad of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies made their way down on Elizabeth Lake Road and into Alderwood Road, where dozens of homes sat on the east side of the golf course.

Not far, Stephanie Purdy, 43, and her boyfriend JJ Azan, 43, watched the fire. They listened to a scanner through a phone app. At one point, a propane tank exploded in the distance.

“It’s devastating for Lake Hughes,” Purdy said.

Across, a neighbor watered his backyard and home with a garden hose.

Purdy said it wasn’t long ago when a fire in San Francisquito Canyon threatened their home. She said firefighters were able to contain that fire. But she said warm temperatures and the prevailing winds have made it difficult for firefighters to contain the Powerhouse fire.

At 12:30 a.m. the fire had made its way down the hill and was burning several yards away. The pair loaded up their four dogs and two cats and drove away. A minute later, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was issuing mandatory evacuations for the small community.

“The fire is here,” the deputies said over the bullhorn.


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