LOS ANGELES — A wildfire that destroyed at least six homes, damaged 15 others and threatened hundreds more grew quickly Sunday as it triggered evacuations for nearly 3,000 people and burned dangerously close to communities in the parched mountains north of Los Angeles.
The blaze had burned about 35 square miles of very dry brush in the Angeles National Forest mountains and canyons, some of which hadn't burned since 1929. The fire was growing so fast, and the smoke was so thick, that it was difficult to map the size, U.S. Forest Service Incident Commander Norm Walker said.
"This is extremely old, dry fuel," Walker said at an afternoon news conference.
The fire, which was 20 percent contained, appeared to be the fiercest of several burning in the West, including two in New Mexico, where thick smoke covered several communities and set a blanket of haze over Santa Fe on Saturday. Crews fighting the two uncontained wildfires focused Sunday on building protection lines around them amid anticipation that a forecast of storms could bring moisture to help reduce the intensity of the fires.
The fire raging in Southern California had crews fighting the fire on four fronts, with the flames spreading quickest northward into unoccupied land, authorities said. But populated areas about 50 miles north of downtown Los Angeles remained in danger, with more than 2,800 people and 700 homes under evacuation orders in the communities of Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, sheriff's Lt. David Coleman said.
They wouldn't be allowed to return home until at least today and possibly Tuesday, he said.
About 2,100 firefighters aided by water-dropping aircraft, some of which were making the rare move of flying through the night, were attacking the blaze.
"We're putting everything that we have into this," Walker said.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Winds were blowing 20-25 mph with gusts of more than 40 mph, so fast that speakers at the news conference were difficult to hear with hard winds hitting the microphone.
"That has created havoc," Los Angeles County Deputy Chief David Richardson said through the winds. "It's had a huge impact on our operations."
At least six homes burned to the ground overnight, and 15 more were scorched by flames, county fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
The blaze broke out Thursday just north of Powerhouse No. 1, a hydroelectric plant near the Los Angeles Aqueduct, forcing about 200 evacuations in the mountain community of Green Valley. Several power lines were downed by the flames.