Santa Clarita area fire grows to more than 22000 acres – Los Angeles Times

The brush fire raging in the rugged mountains in the Santa Clarita Valley grew to more than 22,000 acres overnight as firefighters struggle to gain control of the wildfire amid a brutal heat wave.

The Sand fire roared primarily through uninhabited areas near the 14 Freeway much of Saturday, fueled by high winds and hillsides carpeted with tinderlike chaparral.

The blaze, first reported at 2 p.m. Friday, grew to nearly 5,500 acres by Saturday morning, then exploded by late evening as the winds began to shift, pushing flames closer to homes in a Santa Clarita neighborhood that abuts the Angeles National Forest, fire officials said.

Mandatory evacuations were still in place Sunday for about 1,500 residents in parts of Sand and Placerita canyons, as well as for others along Little Tujunga Canyon road. An evacuation center has been set up at William S. Hart High School in Santa Clarita.

So far, 18 structures have been destroyed and another damaged in the Bear Divide and Sand Canyon areas, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. There has also been one fatality reported, but it is not yet clear if it is fire-related. 

Assisted by fixed-wing aircraft and water-dropping helicopters, more than 1,600 firefighters continue to battle to get ahead of the blaze. But the fire remains only 10% contained.

Decades without a major fire and years of drought left the valley primed for a fast-moving fire that was fueled by “excessive heat, low humidity, extreme dry fuels that have not burned for several decades,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said during a news conference Saturday.

“Five years ago, if we had a similar fire, we would have probably caught [it] at the ridge,” Los Angeles County Fire Department chief Daryl L. Osby said during the news conference.

A man’s body was found inside a car on Iron Canyon Road in the fire zone Saturday evening. Sheriff’s homicide detectives are investigating the death.

National Weather Service meteorologist Robbie Munroe said Sunday is expected to bring two forms of respite: cooler temperatures and more moisture.

While Saturday’s temperatures sweltered into the 100s in the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Santa Clarita valleys — peaking at 108 degrees near the fire — Munroe said conditions would cool off by about 10 degrees Sunday, returning to a more typical July heat.

“Yesterday was the last day of the heat wave,” he said, adding that humidity percentages near the fire would hover in the teens Sunday but get as high as 40% by the evening. As offshore winds pick up Sunday afternoon, Munroe said the fire will likely burn to the northeast.

“It will be gusty at times,” he said, “which will not be helpful for firefighters.”

Fire officials said wind gusts could reach up 20 mph.

At a Denny’s in the Sand Canyon area early Sunday, residents swapped stories about the blaze.

A woman said her husband had seen a burned horse carcass during his morning walk and a man described the scene as looking like Armageddon.

Nearby, Ascension Perez Salorio paced the restaurant, hoping for answers. He turned to a woman and asked, “Did my home burn down?”

Nobody knew.

Since evacuating his home on Little Tujunga Canyon Road late Friday, Salorio said he hasn’t gotten any updates.

“All we can do now,” he said, “is wait.”

On Saturday, the blaze was far enough away that most Southland residents couldn’t see the flames. But smoke and ash seemed to be everywhere.

On the northbound 14, near the Sand Canyon Road exit, drivers in bumper-to-bumper traffic used their wipers to keep ash off their windshields.

The same winds fueling the Sand fire blew smoke across the Los Angeles Basin during the night Saturday, sending plumes billowing across the Southland that were visible from space.

The worst of the smoke moved directly southeast from Santa Clarita, hovering above the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, officials said.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued an alert for unhealthy air quality in portions of central Los Angeles and much of those valleys.

Falling ash also forced the closure of public pools in Glendale and Pasadena.

Los Angeles County residents awoke Saturday to orange-pink skies and air that smelled like a campfire. Ash rained down for hours, leaving a dusting of white on patios, cars and porches.

The iPhone’s weather app described the Los Angeles forecast as “Smoke.”

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Some Angelenos trooped outside with brooms, rags and feather dusters to remove ash and scoop silt from their swimming pools. Others snapped selfies wearing face masks.

On social media, residents shared photos of the sky, comparing the eerie light and billowing clouds to the glow of Mordor in “Lord of the Rings” and the sandstorm on Tatooine in “Star Wars.”

Others said the dusting of white powder coating doorsteps and mailboxes dredged up memories of snow days in less-temperate climes.

“L.A. doesn’t have weather?” one man quipped on Twitter. “We got like half an inch of ash last night.”

Others turned to the classics, saying the red skies recalled Pompeii or the barren landscapes made famous in the post-apocalyptic novel “The Road.”

“We get a free vacation to the inside of Cormac McCarthy’s head!” Dan Telfer of Comedy Central’s @midnight said on Twitter.

Wildfires increase the particulate matter in the air, and the increased concentration of those particles can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, said Jo Kay Ghosh, SCAQMD’s health effects officer.

People with asthma could experience wheezing and an increased risk of attacks. The poor air quality can also affect lung functions and people’s ability to take deep breaths.

Officials recommended that adults and children avoid vigorous outdoor activity and advised children, the elderly and anyone with a respiratory or heart condition to stay inside.

Where possible, residents should keep their windows shut and avoid appliances that would further distribute the particulates, such as dehumidifiers or whole-house fans.

laura.nelson@latimes.com

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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