Almost 3,000 people forced to evacuate north of Los Angeles were being allowed to go home, but Monday will be another long night for crews battling the Powerhouse fire. NBC's Diana Alvear reports.
More than 2,100 firefighters battling the 30,000-acre Powerhouse blaze in southern California recalibrated their strategy Monday afternoon given a mixed blessing of expected weather conditions: cooler temperatures that could slow the spread of the monstrous inferno and erratic winds that make it hard to predict where it will go next.
The Powerhouse fire — which broke out Thursday near the Powerhouse No. 1 hydroelectric plant in Angeles National Forest north of Santa Clarita — forced almost 3,000 evacuations and has damaged 15 homes, destroying six of them. So far, three firefighters have suffered minor injuries, authorities said.
The fire was assessed as 40 percent contained at 3:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. ET), and fire officials said it might not be fully contained for another week. It covered 46 square miles Monday afternoon and was still threatening about 1,100 homes.
Cooler, more humid air "gave us the upper hand, (so) we made headway last night," said Matt Corelli, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, and most of the 2,800 people who'd been evacuated Saturday in Elizabeth Lake and Lake Hughes, north of Los Angeles, were allowed to return to their homes Monday afternoon.
But unpredictable winds were causing just as many problems as the cooler temperatures were solving, and fire officials said it remained a major threat to spread. Sustained winds of 15 mph were blowing in the area, with gusts up to 25 mph.
Meanwhile, firefighters canvassing the area for damage said the destruction was stunning.
"Personally, I haven't seen a fire that will actually jump ahead of itself half a mile, three-quarters of a mile," Los Angeles County fire Battalion Chief Michael Brown told NBC News. "That's amazing."
Greg Johnson, whose home was one of the six that were destroyed, said the fire raced through like lightning.
"Whoosh. Gone. Boom. Done, like that," Johnson told NBC News. "The main thing is I have my life. My son's alive. My wife's alive. We're damn grateful to be alive."
Diana Alvear, Alastair Jamieson and Daniel Arkin of NBC News contributed to this report.
Rising temperatures and drought conditions fuel blazes in the U.S.
NBCLosAngeles.com's Jason Kandel, Brandon Lowrey and Reggie Kumar, and Reuters, contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Mon Jun 3, 2013 5:20 AM EDT