Saddleridge Fire: All Evacuations Lifted, But 'Extreme' Fire Danger Still Exists

 laist.com  10/13/2019 00:05:00   LAist Staff
Flames heat up high power lines as the Saddleridge Fire burns near Newhall on Oct. 11, 2019. (David McNew/Getty Images)

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All evacuations were lifted for residents on the third day of the Saddleridge Fire, but dangerous conditions persist as firefighters work to contain the blaze burning in the hills between the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys Saturday.

The wind-driven fire broke out near Sylmar Thursday night and prompted evacuation orders for the entire communities of Porter Ranch and Granada Hills. At one point, mandatory evacuations affected more than 20,000 homes and 100,000 people.

The fire has scorched an estimated 7,552 acres and is 19% contained as of the latest official report. More than 17,600 structures remain threatened, according to fire officials.

Some evacuations were lifted Friday evening, while other residents were allowed to briefly return home to gather belongings. Around 4:45 p.m. Saturday afternoon, officials announced that all evacuation orders related to the Saddleridge Fire were lifted. As residents returned to their homes, officials cautioned people to drive slowly as personnel continues to work in the area.

On Friday, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an emergency declaration, the first step to securing extra resources from county and state agencies.

WHAT WE KNOW AS OF NOON SATURDAY

  • Acreage: 7,552 acres
  • Containment: 19%
  • Mandatory evacuations: All evacuations have been lifted
  • Structures destroyed: 21, including 18 homes
  • Structures damaged: 11, including 10 homes
  • Resources deployed: 1,000 personnel from Los Angeles' city and county fire departments, along with crews from CalFire
  • Air quality: Smoke advisory issued for people with "sensitive health conditions" through Sunday

Authorities said Friday that one "civilian male" went into cardiac arrest Thursday night and died at a local hospital. Two firefighters have been treated for minor injuries, LAFD officials said.

'EXTREME' FIRE DANGER

Fire danger in the city of L.A. is "extreme", LAFD officials announced Saturday, urging residents to stay prepared.

The strong, gusty winds that accelerated the fire's growth overnight Thursday have weakened, National Weather Service forecasters said Saturday, with gusts now in the 20 to 30 mph range.

Those offshore winds blowing in the fire area are expected to shift about noon, according to NWS, pushing inland through the Porter Ranch and Sylmar region, then through the Newhall Pass by 2 p.m.

About 1,000 firefighters are on the scene, along with aircraft, L.A. County Fire Capt. Tony Imbrenda told KPCC about 10:45 a.m. Saturday.

Local firefighters got some relief on the fire line, when Cal Fire crews started to arrive overnight Friday and to help stop the fire's forward progress, Imbrenda said.

The biggest challenge, Imbrenda said, is that "we still do have a high-pressure Santa Ana condition here on the fire line." Given the volatile winds, firefighters are keenly aware that a dangerous situation "can develop without notice," he added.

HOW IT STARTED

The X marks the spot where the Saddleridge Fire began (Sharon McNary/ LAist)

The blaze started about 9 p.m. near Yarnell Street and north of the 210 Freeway in Sylmar and quickly spread west, jumping the 5 Freeway and burning into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch.

The fire broke out in red-flag conditions along with scores of other fires statewide. L.A. authorities put the city on tactical alert to respond to the blaze. A command post for the fire has been at Hansen Dam.

Just after 10 a.m. Friday, the National Weather Service extended a red flag warning in the region. The warning had been scheduled to expire at 6 p.m. Friday but will now be in effect until 6 p.m. Saturday.

THE CAUSE

LAFD's Ralph Terrazas noted at a news conference Friday that they were investigating media reports that a witness saw the fire start at the base of an electrical tower behind his home. Robert Delgado told ABC7 that he noticed the fire at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS

At 4:45 p.m. Saturday, LAFD lifted all evacuation orders related to the fire.

Earlier in the day, before evacuation orders were lifted, Los Angeles police offered residents an escort home to collect their belongings. Proof of residence was required. Police escorts were available at:

  • Porter Ranch Town Center, Porter Ranch Drive and Rinaldi Street

  • Target, northwest corner of Balboa and San Fernando Mission boulevards

  • Sylmar Recreation Center, 13109 Borden Ave.

Van Chiuk arrived at Porter Ranch Town Center Saturday to try and secure a police escort back home. Originally, he had planned to ignore the evacuation orders and stay at home with his humidifier turned on — until his son asked him to leave.

"These things happen, so we have to do what we have to do," he said.

LAPD said they were allowing residents to stay five minutes to gather the essentials.

Deborah Whitlock Trotter said she needed to get her passport, medications and other personal items. Since evacuating early Friday, she's been texting her friends and family nonstop.

"It just hit home. This is really my first time being with this. There's been fires around, but not where I had to evacuate," she said.

The Saddleridge Fire destroyed this home on Jolette Ave. in Granada Hills. (Robert Garrova/LAist)

Local authorities and politicians urged residents to be proactive by paying close attention to news reports and signing up for alerts through the city.

"You're not going have a police officer knock at every single door if mandatory evacuations change," Rep. Katie Hill, (D-Agua Dulce) said at a press conference Friday afternoon with fire and police officials.

Paul Womble said he noticed the flames were getting close to his home at about 10:30 p.m. — about three hours before any official evacuation orders were issued — but wasn't bothered by the delay.

"Which is understandable — these fires travel so fast," he said. "I'm assuming they didn't want to call it too soon."

By texting "READY" to 888-777, residents will be registered with NotifyLA.org, and receive notification of evacuations in their area.

Hill advised potential evacuees to follow television news, Twitter and to have AM radio at hand.

"If cellular networks go down, then (radio) is the last line of defense," she said.

LAFD inspector Sky Cornell told NPR he's seen good compliance with evacuations this year compared to last year with the Woolsey Fire, which burned nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties last year.

"Unfortunately, we had a very, very bad year last year with the Woolsey Fire. I think after soemthing like that people see the need for evacuating when the professionals ask you to evacuate," Cornell said.

Part of the fire is burning in a Cal Fire "very high fire hazard severity zone." The designation is important because, since 2008, all homes built in these zones have had to meet strict building codes designed to prevent them from catching on fire. They must have fire resistant roofs and siding; fine mesh screen on attic vents to keep embers out; decks and patios made of non-flammable material, and heat-resistant windows.

You can search and see if your house is in a VHFHSZ.

Eyad Jarjour, left, consoles his neighbor as she views her burned home after flames from the Saddleridge Fire tore through Granada Hills on Oct. 11, 2019. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

EVACUATION CENTERS

As of 10 a.m. Saturday, the following evacuation centers are accepting new arrivals, including people and small pets:

  • Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Rec Center, 14201 Huston St. (OPEN)
  • Brandford Rec Center, 13306 Brandford St. (OPEN)
  • Lanark Recreation Center, 21816 Lanark St. (OPEN)
  • Granada Hills Recreation Center, 16730 Chatsworth St. (OPEN)
  • Northridge Recreation Center, 18300 Lemarsh St. (OPEN)
  • Balboa Recreation Center, 17015 Burbank Blvd. (OPEN)
  • Mason Park, 10500 Mason Ave. (OPEN)
  • Sylmar Recreation Center, 13109 Borden Ave. (FULL)

Shelters for large animals have been opened at Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, the West Valley Animal Shelter and Pierce College.

POWER AND GAS

A firefighting helicopter drops water on the Saddleridge Fire near high power lines on Oct. 11, 2019 near Newhall. (David McNew/Getty Images)

SoCalGas officials said personnel at their gas storage facility at Aliso Canyon had been evacuated by fire authorities. In an email responding to questions, they said multiple fire engines and firefighters from the city and county were fighting the fire "in and around the Aliso Canyon facility."

They said they were unaware of any damage to the facility at this time and added that they maintain "a detailed and systematic brush clearing program around our facilities to minimize the chances of a brush fire affecting storage wellheads."

The facility was the site of the largest sustained gas leak in U.S. history in 2015, putting more than 100,000 metric tons of methane and other chemicals into the air.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported one remaining outage in Granada Hills that affected 11 customers as of Saturday morning.

As of 3:45 p.m., Southern California Edison said about 54 customers in Los Angeles County continued to have its power shut off. At one point, more than 20,000 customers had their power shutoff.

ROAD CLOSURES

As of 6 a.m., all freeways and connectors in the area have reopened, except for a few truck routes. Still closed, per Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol:

  • Southbound 5 Freeway truck route
  • Southbound 14 Freeway to southbound 5 Freeway truck route
  • Northbound 5 Freeway to northbound 14 Freeway truck route

AIR QUALITY

Several smoke advisories were in effect Friday across Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

Anyone who smells smoke was advised by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to limit their exposure by remaining indoors with windows and doors closed and avoid physical activity.

We've got more on the air quality and how you can stay safe here.

And you can see AQMD's current air quality map here.

HOW WE'RE REPORTING ON THIS

Reporters Robert Garrova and Matt Tinoco are covering the story on the ground near the scene of the fire today. Our KPCC newscast producers have been making calls. Digital producer Ryan Fonseca is keeping this story updated.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:

FIRE RESOURCES

UPDATES: This article will be updated throughout the day. Check back later to see the latest.

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