Powerhouse Fire: Evacuations lifted for some communities (Photos)

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Update 5:42 p.m.: The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has lifted evacuation orders for some communities affected by the Powerhouse Fire near Santa Clarita. 

Folks who live in the Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth neighborhoods can return home. Antelope Acres remains under evacuation. 

The Powerhouse Fire has scorched 30,000 acres since it started last Thursday. It's now 40 percent contained. 

Cooler temperatures and lighter winds today are helping crews get the upper hand. But U.S. Forest Service Incident Commander Norm Walker says they're still dealing with some stubborn hot spots.

"We have one small escape out in the extreme northwest of the fire below the aqueduct. It jumped a dozer line. The troops are working right now to get that line back around it," Walker said.

So far the fire has destroyed six homes.  No injuries have been reported.

Update 1:01 p.m. The Powerhouse Fire north of Los Angeles is more contained than it was Sunday night, but that doesn't mean that people aren't still dealing with its effects.

Kipp Coughtrie's home in Elizabeth Lake was just a few feet away from being engulfed in flames. The fire came right up to the property line, but firefighters were able to save the home. Coughtrie said that being in the house was hot and smelly, with the smell of the fire being inescapable.

"Living through it, evacuating and coming back home and being without the basic necessities for a while — it takes a lot out of you."

Coughtrie watched the scene from a friend's house with his wife and son. His wife and son couldn't watch. He said they were too emotional to watch what they thought would be their house going down in flames.

"While we were sitting there waiting, watching the flames advance, the realness of it puts you in a kind of a state of shock. I have a 14-year-old son and my wife was with me, and he didn't want to be there at all, so he was very upset, and he just wanted to go. My wife was upset and crying, and everybody was quiet."

Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency this weekend approved a request from California for disaster assistance.

That means the state could now be reimbursed up to 75 percent of certain firefighting costs related to the fire.

On a more ground level note, the California Department of Insurance was urging evacuees on Monday to check their homeowners' insurance policies carefully, as they might be eligible for certain benefits even if their homes are not damaged.

“Many evacuees may be unaware that their homeowners’ insurance policies may cover the additional living expenses incurred by a mandatory evacuation. I urge evacuees to contact their insurer to see if they qualify for this important benefit,” Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement.

Mary Plummer, Brian Frank & Mike Roe

Previously: Firefighters working in darkness doubled containment of a massive wildfire north of Los Angeles to 40 percent overnight, as cool, moist air moved in Monday to replace torrid weather. While containment doubled, officials don't expect the fire to be fully contained until early next week.

The fire, which has fed on old brush that hasn't burned in decades, did grow, but the moderating weather conditions gave crews the opportunity to make major gains, U.S. Forest Spokesman Matt Correlli said.

Firefighters were able halt the progress of the fire's northeastern front, which had been moving into unoccupied desert lands north of Angeles National Forest.

Crews remained in place to protect structures in the rural hamlets of Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, but flames were moving away from residential areas.

"The flames really laid down overnight," said Nathan Judy, also of the Forest Service.

The fire has burned about 46 square miles —29,584 acres — in mountain and canyons areas, destroying at least six houses and damaging 15 more.

"At this point, the Station Fire was a lot bigger in scope than this fire," California Highway Patrol Officer Peter Bishop told KPCC. He was stationed at San Francisquito Canyon Road at Dry Gulch in Santa Clarita.

The fire was fueled in part by chaparral that was "extremely old and dry" and hadn't burned since 1929, U.S. Forest Service Incident Commander Norm Walker said Sunday at a news conference.

More than 2,800 people and 700 homes were under evacuation orders that were expected to last until late Monday or Tuesday.

About 2,100 firefighters took on the flames, aided by water-dropping aircraft, including three helicopters that stayed aloft through the night. Monday morning, there were 11 helicopters, 143 fire engines, 31 water tenders and 24 bulldozers in use.

"We're putting everything that we have into this," Walker said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation. Three firefighters had minor injuries, but no one else was hurt.

Winds of about 25 mph and gusting as high as 40 mph had created "havoc" for firefighters for much of Sunday, LA County Deputy Chief David Richardson said.

Propelled by the strong winds, the fire jumped an aqueduct west of Lancaster, officials said.

George Ladd, 61, said among the structures burned was a cabin at Lake Hughes his family had owned since 1954 but sold just last week. He said he expected it may go up in flames sooner.

"We had always worried about that thing going off like a bomb," Ladd said.

He walked through the ashes of his former cabin and the other destroyed homes Sunday.

"All of them are nothing," Ladd said by phone from his home in nearby Palmdale later Sunday night. "A few scraps, a few pieces of wood with nails sticking out, but mostly just broken up concrete."

"People are just frustrated because they cant get to their homes, and there are several people that have livestock in the area that they want to feed," said Officer Bishop. "I'm a homeowner myself, and if I wasn't allowed to enter my house at all for a period of time and not know the state of my house for a period of time, it's a very stressful situation."

Bishop explained why the evacuations were necessary.

"Basically, what it boils down to is safety. Fires burn out of control and they're hard to contain at times, and we don't want people injuring themselves or possibly dying."

Bishop was stationed at his location since 4 p.m. Sunday and was still there Monday morning.

"We're trained for these types of situations, so early on in the academy, sleep deprivation becomes a big part of your training."

Saturday night, Gayle Saucier saw heavy smoke and flames near her home. She evacuated on Saturday a few hours before the mandatory evacuation was called, taking her pets and four young children. She described the scene.

"Scary. It was kind of out of control at that point, last time I was here. Twenty-foot walls of flames in front of you, and it's just burning out of control."

On Monday, Saucier parked her SUV on the side of the road and was prepared to  check on her home. Police weren't allowing cars through, but Saucier was determined to see her home for herself. She'd heard it had survived the fire, but was emotional and said she was fighting back tears.

"There's spot fires all over the place. It's all this brush, and it's just all on fire."

Also in the West, two major wildfires are burning in northern New Mexico, and weather conditions were not expected to be helpful to firefighters Monday.

The Tres Lagunas fire north of Pecos in the Santa Fe National Forest had grown to 12 1/2 square miles by Monday morning, causing smoke to spread across much of the region. It earlier prompted the evacuations of about 140 houses, most of them summer residences.

Drier and windier weather was expected Monday, a change from Sunday, said interagency fire management team spokeswoman Denise Ottaviano. "It's going to be challenging."

The Thompson Ridge fire near Jemez Springs remained at nearly 3 square miles, according to a Monday morning status report. Forty to 50 houses were evacuated late last week.

This story has been updated.

With contributions by Andrew Dalton, Paul Davenport, Mike Roe, and Brian Frank

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