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Although the pilots hit nothing in the air, the ground was another thing completely. Fifteen rockets didn’t go off but the rest did. Castaic saw 150 acres go up in flames. At Placerita Canyon, one rocket bounced along the ground, setting off a series of fires, one of which ignited some of the Indian Oil Co.’s oil sumps. At Soledad Canyon, 350 acres were set ablaze. Newhall wasn’t hit, but it had to deal with the smoke.
The Hellcat hadn’t hit Palmdale, but some of the rockets had, starting fires in and around the city. A piece of shrapnel shot through the window of Edna Carlson’s house, bounced off her ceiling, burst through a wall, and finally parked inside one of her kitchen cabinets. More fragments punched through JR Hingle’s garage, shot through his living room, and nearly hit his wife.
Larry Kempton was driving on Palmdale Blvd. with his mother when a rocket exploded in front of his car. It took out his left tire, radiator, hood, and windshield. At Placerita Canyon, two men had just left their truck to have lunch when a rocket blew it up.
It took two days and 500 firefighters to put all the fires out, and explosive ordnance disposal teams to remove 13 duds around Palmdale. Incredibly, no one was seriously hurt or killed.
The Battle of Palmdale confronted the US Air Force with an embarrassing fact – that two of their latest, state-of-art interceptors couldn’t bring down an obsolete, pilot-less propeller-driven plane.
California faced a red menace that day, but it wasn’t communist.