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Firefighters battle forest fires in West

LOS ANGELES -- A fire that destroyed at least five structures and threatened hundreds of others exploded in size overnight, burning dangerously close to two communities north of Los Angeles.

Erratic wind spread the blaze in the Angeles National Forest to nearly 41 square miles early yesterday, triggering the evacuation of nearly 1,000 homes in Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, officials said.

Matt Corelli of the Forest Service told The Associated Press that five structures had been burned down. He said they could be homes but crews were waiting for more daylight to make a positive determination.

"That's the only number we have confirmed right now," he said.

At least 10 other structures were damaged.

Crews working in steep terrain expected cooler weather yesterday after triple-digit temperatures a day earlier.

The wind pushed the fire up and down steep slopes, creating embers that sparked spot fires in different directions.

The fire was 20 percent contained.

A huge plume of smoke could be seen from much of various parts of northern Los Angeles County throughout Saturday, and air-quality officials warned against strenuous outdoor activity.

The blaze broke out Thursday just north of Powerhouse No. 1, a hydroelectric plant near the Los Angeles Aqueduct, forcing about 200 evacuations in the mountain community of Green Valley.

Evacuations remained in effect for the Cottonwood campground and two youth probation camps along Lake Hughes Canyon Road.

The flames were chewing thick, dry brush that hasn't been burned in about a dozen years.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Elsewhere in the West, firefighting crews in New Mexico battled wildfires that have blackened thousands of acres and threatened homes and buildings, spurring numerous evacuations.

An uncontained blaze near Santa Fe, N.M., had spread to nearly 10 square miles by Saturday night, placing the city under a blanket of haze.

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