A wildfire burning in mountains north of Los Angeles has destroyed 24 homes including a number of summer cabins, fire officials said on Thursday after it was safe enough to send in an on-foot assessment team.
The damage wrought by the Powerhouse Fire comes as officials in California have warned of a particularly early and intense start of the fire season. Two major wildfires are also burning in New Mexico.
A previous estimate had put the number of residences damaged or destroyed by the Powerhouse Fire at 15. The blaze, which has consumed just over 30,000 acres, has also destroyed another 29 outbuildings.
Firefighters have gained the upper hand on the blaze, which began a week ago in northwest Los Angeles County and has burned through brush lands in mountainous terrain near the towns of Lancaster and Palmdale. The blaze was 78 percent contained, with full containment predicted for Monday.
"Definitely we've turned the corner, there's no question about that," U.S. Forest Service safety officer Ron Ashdale said.
But the weather in the coming days is expected to get warmer, which could complicate firefighting efforts.
The forecasted high temperature for Thursday was 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36 Celsius), and winds could shift on Friday and Saturday and threaten to spread flames toward a containment line that is nevertheless expected to hold, Ashdale said.
Some of the 24 homes destroyed in the Powerhouse Fire are believed to be primary residences, especially around the Lake Hughes area that was touched by flames, but others are summer cabins in the Angeles National Forest, fire officials said.
"We sort of anticipated that because of areas we couldn't get into that were severely burned, that (the damage estimate) was going to increase, we didn't know by how much," Forest Service spokesman Matt Corelli said.
The cause of the blaze, which broke out near a remote powerhouse and has cost $16 million to fight, is still under investigation.
In New Mexico, firefighters continue to work to control two major wildfires. The Thompson Ridge Fire west of Santa Fe was at 12,171 acres and was only 5 percent contained, after firefighters worked to protect historic buildings and a peak sacred to Native Americans.
The state's second major blaze, the Tres Lagunas Blaze east of Santa Fe, stood at 9,441 acres and was 24 percent contained, according to fire information website Inciweb.org.