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Up The Creek? 12,000-Acre Wildfire May Not Be Contained Until Almost Christmas

SYLMAR (CBSLA) — A brush fire that broke out in the Kagel Canyon area above Sylmar charred more than 11,000 acres, destroyed about 30 homes and prompted the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from their homes raged on for a second day Wednesday, even though air crews made overnight water drops in a bid to douse the flames.

Authorities Wednesday afternoon warned the fire might not be fully contained until nearly Christmas.

No fatalities were reported but three firefighters were injured Tuesday in their battle against the Creek Fire, which was zero percent contained Tuesday night. All were in stable condition, with at least two of them expected to be released from hospitals Wednesday, said Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The blaze broke out at 3:42 a.m. Tuesday in the area of Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads, the Los Angeles County Fire Department reported. More than 600 firefighters battled the blaze amid strong Santa Ana winds, some gusting at 70 mph.

The 210 Freeway reopened early Wednesday morning in both directions between the 5 Freeway on the west and the 2 Freeway.

As of Tuesday night, at least 30 homes were destroyed, about 20 of them in the Little Tujunga, Kagel Canyon and Lopez Canyon areas. The other 10 homes were within Los Angeles city limits, according to Stewart.

"Resources are fully engaged saving lives and defending property," she said.

Wednesday evening, officials put the loss of acreage at 12,605 and said they didn't expect full containment until Dec. 23. Nearly 1,700 were fighting the blaze from air and ground.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said evacuation orders were affecting about 150,000 residents, but a Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman put the number at around 120,000.

As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, an estimated 11,377 acres had burned and 2,500 structures were threatened, according to the U.S. Forest Service, which was fighting the fire in a unified command with the Los Angeles city and county fire departments.

Some officials put the acreage figure at closer to 14,000 acres burned by Wednesday evening.

Three helicopters, 90 engines and two bulldozers were also deployed, according to the Forest Service.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas warned that the battle was likely to continue until at least Friday.

"This has only just begun," he said Tuesday.

At the Wednesday news conference he sounded even more dire.

The weather projection for Thursday, he said, was 75 degrees, four percent relative humidity with 33 mph winds out of the north east. "The Brush Burning Index, the number we rate of the threat of a brush fire, for tomorrow is 296. This is the highest number I've seen in my career. The threshold for this rating is 165. Monday, I told the mayor this was the highest number I'd ever seen. And that was 266. And tomorrow is even higher."

The Los Angeles Police Department was on a citywide tactical alert, which allows commanders maximum flexibility in deploying resources.

As the fire expanded and jumped south of the Foothill Freeway, so did the mandatory evacuation area. Evacuations were initially ordered in the area north of the Foothill Freeway from Glenoaks Boulevard on the west to the border with La Crescenta on the east.

But by early Tuesday afternoon, the eastern boundary of the evacuation area had been expanded to the Haynes Canyon area. And an area south of the Foothill Freeway was ordered evacuated in Shadow Hills between Sunland Boulevard to the south, Wentworth Street to the north and Tuxford Street to the west, officials said.

Seventeen evacuation centers were opened throughout the San Fernando Valley, all of which were accepting evacuees and pets. The fire also forced a mass evacuation of large animals, primarily horses but also others such as alpacas.

Large animal evacuation centers at Pierce College, the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and Hansen Dam Recreation Area quickly reached capacity. The Pomona Fairplex and the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster also opened stables for evacuated animals.

For small animals, shelters were in place at West Valley Animal Shelter, 20655 Plummer St., and the East Valley Animal Shelter, 14409 Vanowen St.

The fire affected a number of schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, prompting the closures of 14 campuses in the fire area Wednesday, while another 21 charter schools in the area also will be closed.

Los Angeles Mission College's Main Campus at 13356 Eldridge Ave. and the East Campus at 12890 Harding St., both in Sylmar, were closed for the day, but there was no immediate word if classes would resume Wednesday.

At the Wednesday news conference, the mayor and fire officials reiterated the need to evacuate when ordered to do so.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell urged people -- whether they were in an area near a fire or not -- to prepare a Go Bag with important papers and documents like passports and birth certificates , as well as food, water, and medications to last for several days.

"And have your cell phone charged," he advised. "And please heed the warnings. We don't ask you to leave an area, we don't do it lightly.  We take it very seriously. But we do it out of an abundance of caution to insure that nobody gets hurt."

As of Wednesday evening,mandatory evacuations issued north of the 210, from Glenoaks Blvd. to Haines Canyon Ave.
south of the 210, west of Sunland/Stonehurst, and north of La Tuna Canyon Road.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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