‘We expect structure loss’: Bobcat fire forces more evacuations in Antelope Valley

The Bobcat fire has made its way into the foothills of the Antelope Valley and is damaging structures and forcing more evacuations.

Vince Pena, unified incident commander with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said the blaze is threatening property around Juniper Hills and Valyermo.

There has been “structure damage and we expect structure loss,” Pena said at a Friday evening news briefing.

The relentless fire, which started Sept. 6, has now chewed through more than 72,000 acres — doubling its size in the last week.

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Strong winds are driving the blaze toward communities in the Antelope Valley, L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.

Fire crews are trying to stop the blaze from marching in the other direction — east of Highway 39 — and working to protect Mt. Wilson, home to a historically important observatory as well as numerous communication towers.

Residents in northern foothill communities, including portions of Juniper Hills, Devil’s Punchbowl and Paradise Springs, were placed under evacuation orders earlier in the week as flames moved within a mile of the area.

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New evacuation orders were issued Friday for residents in the national forest east of Highway 39, south of East Fork Road, west of Glendora Mountain Road and north of Glendora Ridge Road.

Additional orders were issued for residents south of Fort Tejon Road, west of Longview Road, north of Colley Place and east of 89th Street East, as well as residents south of East Avenue W-14, west of 165th Street East, north of Tumbleweed Road and east of Longview Road.

Orders were also issued for residents south of Pearblossom Highway, north of Big Pines Highway, west of Largo Vista Road and east of 165th Street East.

“Yesterday we saw the fire expand north, to the west and to a pocket to the east,” Angeles National Forest spokeswoman Keila Vizcarra said. “Toward the north end, we have a lot of ‘light and flashy’ fuels that ignite really swiftly and quickly, which is contributing to its growth.”

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The Juniper Hills area is home to several ranch houses and consists of low-lying desert terrain, the Forest Service said, which fire crews hope will help rebuff the flames that have been feeding off the forest’s bone-dry vegetation.

The fire’s dramatic spread has raised questions about what — if anything — could have been done to prevent its rapid growth.

Ample fuel, record heat and steep terrain have all been attributed to the fire’s ignition and growth. In a meeting with Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday, President Trump doubled down on criticism that poor forest management has contributed to California’s record wildfires.

“When you have dried leaves on the ground, it’s just fuel for the fires,” Trump said.

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But the Angeles National Forest is just that — a national forest — which means it falls under the purview of the federal government and not the state.

The federal government owns 57% of California’s 33 million acres of forests, Newsom said. State and local governments own 3%, while the remaining 40% is privately owned.

In August, Newsom reached an agreement with the Forest Service in which the federal government will match California’s goal of reducing wildfire risks on 500,000 acres of forest land per year.

The Bobcat fire ignited just weeks after that agreement was signed.

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Weary fire crews have made significant progress on the southern end of the fire, which jeopardized several foothill communities, including Arcadia and Sierra Madre. With that side of the blaze all but stopped, the overall containment of the Bobcat fire rose from 3% Thursday to 15% Friday, officials reported.

“Right now, they are feeling tired, but they’re also ready to continue the work that’s been done,” Vizcarra said of the crews, “and they’ve done a lot of good work already.”

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