Image: Helicopters fly in to battle wildfire
Jason Redmond  /  AP
Helicopters were brought in Friday to battle a fire burning in the Angeles National Forest northeast of downtown Los Angeles.
updated 8/29/2009 10:17:18 PM ET 2009-08-30T02:17:18

A growing wildfire sending massive billows of smoke into the sky north of Los Angeles nearly tripled in size Saturday, injuring three people, burning a small number of homes, knocking out power to many more and prompting evacuations in a number of mountain communities.

Mandatory evacuations were extended Saturday into neighborhoods in the canyons on the northwestern edge of Altadena, Glendale, La Crescenta and Big Tujunga Canyon, Forest Service spokesman Bruce Quintelier said.

The flames crept lower down the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains despite winds blowing predominantly in the other direction, threatening more than 2,000 homes in the La Canada Flintridge area. At least 150 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders there.

A few homes and about 25 recreational cabins have burned but exact numbers were not immediately available, said Forest Service spokesman Gabriel Alvarez.

More than 31 square miles of dry forest was scorched by the fire, which continued to move out in all directions, the most active flanks to the north, deeper into the forest, and east, Quintelier said. The blaze was only 5 percent contained.

At least three residents of Big Tujunga Canyon were burned and airlifted to local hospitals, Quintelier said. The details of their injuries were unknown.

Wicked flames rage on
Air crews waged a fierce late afternoon battle against the southeast corner of the fire, burning dangerously close to canyon homes. Spotter planes with tankers on their tails dove well below ridge lines to lay bright orange retardant then pulled up dramatically over neighborhoods, and giant sky crane helicopters swooped in to unleash showers on the biggest flare ups.

The fire was burning in steep wooded hills adjacent to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in northern Pasadena.

In La Vina, a gated community of luxury homes in the Altadena area, a small group of residents stood at the end of a cul-de-sac on the lip of a canyon and watched aircraft battle flames trying to cross the ridge on the far side.

At one point, the flying circus of relatively small propellor-driven tankers gave way to the sight of a giant DC-10 jumbo jet unleashing a rain of red retardant.

"We see a drop, we give a big cheer," said Gary Blackwood, who works on telescope technology at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We've watched it now for two days hop one ridge at a time and now it's like we're the next ridge."

A major goal was to keep the fire from spreading up Mount Wilson, where many of the region's broadcast and communications antennas and the historic Mount Wilson Observatory are located, officials said.

A thick layer of smoke hovered over the Los Angeles Basin and San Fernando Valley, and officials issued a smoke advisory for communities near the fire. Residents were urged to avoid exertion and seek air-conditioned shelter.

State of emergency declared
A second fire in the Angeles National Forest was burning several miles to the east in a canyon above the city of Azusa.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday in Los Angeles and Monterey counties.

A state of emergency was declared Saturday for Mariposa County, where a nearly 5.5-square-mile fire burned in Yosemite National Park. The blaze was 30 percent contained, park officials said. No structures were threatened.

The Mariposa County Sheriff's Office ordered guests and staff at the Yosemite View Lodge, in the town of El Portal just outside the park's western gate, to evacuate Friday due to the fire.

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