Saddleridge fire is only 19% contained as thousands near Los Angeles still can’t return home

Saddleridge fire is only 19% contained as thousands near Los Angeles still can’t return home

LOS ANGELES — The strong Santa Ana winds driving wildfires in the Los Angeles area have died down, but the major blaze that burned at least 31 homes continued to rage Saturday, keeping tens of thousands of residents from returning to their homes.

The National Weather Service said the winds, though weaker, were still expected to produce gusts up to 30 mph, creating dangerous fire conditions in the dry, wooded hills of northwest Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES — The strong Santa Ana winds driving wildfires in the Los Angeles area have died down, but the major blaze that burned at least 31 homes continued to rage Saturday, keeping tens of thousands of residents from returning to their homes.

The National Weather Service said the winds, though weaker, were still expected to produce gusts up to 30 mph, creating dangerous fire conditions in the dry, wooded hills of northwest Los Angeles.

The Saddleridge fire that erupted Thursday night in the Sylmar neighborhood of Los Angeles had consumed more than 7,500 acres by Saturday and was only 19% contained.

The continued threat prompted authorities to maintain Red Flag Warnings into Saturday evening for most of the threatened Southern California areas.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom have issued emergency declarations because of the fire. 

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More than 1,000 firefighters were trying to contain the fires driven by the dry, desert winds.

“As you can imagine, the embers from the wind have been traveling a significant distance, which causes another fire to start,” said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, though arson investigators said a witness reported seeing sparks or flames coming from a power line near where the fire is believed to have started, said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The fast-moving fire in areas near Granada Hills and Porter Ranch forced the evacuation of some 100,000 people in over 20,000 homes, according to Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore. 

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A 55-year-old man went into cardiac arrest and died while trying to fight the fire around his home with a garden hose, authorities said.

The second, smaller Sandalwood fire, which destroyed more than 70 mobile homes in the Calimesa area of Riverside County, 75 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, has destroyed more than 800 acres and was only 25% contained. The fire was sparked by garbage that caught fire in a trash truck.

A person was killed in the Sandalwood fire, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Cathey Mattingly. 

Shawn Melvin, who was driving through the area behind the burning trash truck, said he pulled the driver over and tried to get him to leave the area because of he dry brush.

“He kind of looked me like “‘What do you want me to do?’” Melvin told KCAL-TV. “That’s when I preceded to tell him, “‘Go anywhere else but here. Go on the overpass, go anywhere else but here, because you’re going to catch this place on fire’”

Melvin, whose 8-year-old son videotaped the incident, said the driver was apparently following company protocol to dump the burning trash by the road to keep from losing the truck.

“He was following the rules because they didn’t want a $150,000 vehicle to burn down, but then they killed somebody,” Melvin said.

One worried Calimesa resident said he couldn’t reach his 89-year-old mother after she called to tell him she was evacuating.

“She said she’s getting her purse and she’s getting out, and the line went dead,” Don Turner said.

He said neighbors saw his mother, Lois Arvickson, in her garage as flames approached and later saw the garage on fire, but they didn’t know if she’d managed to escape.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for the LA neighborhood of Reseda, in the San Fernando Valley, and said smoke was also affecting air quality in nearby areas of Topanga and Malibu.

The two fires burned as power was restored to most of the nearly 2 million residents in the northern part of the state who had lost electricity. The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. switched it off Wednesday to prevent a repeat of the past two years when its equipment sparked deadly, destructive wildfires during windy weather.

Contributing: Associated Press

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