IRWINDALE (CBSLA) – Firefighters Thursday morning continued to make significant progress on the stubborn Bobcat Fire burning in the Angeles National Forest and Antelope Valley foothills amid a new investigation into whether Southern California Edison’s utility equipment may have sparked the blaze.
The fire has burned at least 113,986 acres and was 50% contained as of Thursday evening. At least 47 homes have been destroyed.
Evacuation orders were lifted Thursday morning for the Antelope Valley foothill communities of Clear, Sand and Ward, allowing those residents back into their homes, although several other evacuation orders still remained in effect.
Evacuation warnings were in place for several other communities, including Pasadena in the San Gabriel foothills. Both Highways 2 and 39 remain closed.
“We’ve got great weather conditions that we’re going to use to our benefit, we are expecting that to change starting Friday and into the weekend,” said L.A. County Fire Inspector Sky Cornell Thursday. “So we’re just gonna continue to work aggressive, day and night.”
Crews have started to use aggressive techniques to combat the fire, including fighting fire with fire by setting backfires.
“Normally when you see smoke, that’s a very bad thing,” Cornell said. “But today, that’s actually a good thing. That means we’re doing our job. We’ve got firefighters here using fire to fight fire.”
In addition to the more than 1,600 people fighting the fire, agencies are using fire-dropping helicopters that strategically light up parts of the mountainside to prevent the blaze from spreading in more dangerous directions.
“They have the ability to drop flame from the sky or to drop little balls that we inject with a couple of chemicals that, when they mix, they ignite and then they fall to the forest floor,” Cornell said.
Crews are hoping these efforts will help contain the Bobcat Fire and prevent it from damaging more buildings.
“We know how fast fire can move when it has wind pushing it,” Cornell said. “So, although we’re far away from those communities now, we’re trying to keep it that way.”
The Bobcat Fire, one of the largest in L.A. County history, broke out a little after noon on Sept. 6 amid triple-digit temperatures near the Cogswell Dam and the West Fork Day Use area.
On Wednesday, SoCal Edison revealed that federal investigators are looking into a disturbance at a nearby substation which occurred mere minutes before the fire was reported.
The initial report of fire was at 12:21 p.m. on Sept. 6. The utility says five minutes earlier, at 12:16 p.m., a circuit at the substation experienced a possible disturbance or event. Edison says cameras captured smoke developing in the area around 12:10 p.m., prior to the activity on Edison’s circuit.
Last November, SoCal Edison agreed to pay $360 million to settle lawsuits brought by local governments over the 2017 Thomas Fire and the 2018 Woolsey Fire, both of which were likely sparked by the utility’s equipment.