Thousands evacuated, homes damaged due to Saddleridge fire in Southern California
An aggressive wildfire in Southern California seared its way through dry vegetation Friday and spread quickly, destroying more than a dozen homes as tens of thousands of residents were ordered to get out of its way, authorities said.
The blaze broke out Thursday evening in the San Fernando Valley and spread westward, burning its way into hilly subdivisions on the northern edge of Los Angeles as terrified residents grabbed what they could and ran. One man went into cardiac arrest and died, authorities said.
Those who left included Edwin Bernard, who said he never saw the flames arrive so quickly or come so close to his home as this time.
He watched as the fire swept down a hillside, sizzling through dry grass and igniting trees and bushes and spitting embers over his home of 30 years. He and his wife fled in their car, leaving behind medication, photo albums and their four cats.
“It was a whole curtain of fire,” Bernard said Friday. “There was fire on all sides. We had to leave.”
The region has been on high alert as notoriously powerful Santa Ana winds brought dry desert air to a desiccated landscape that only needed a spark to erupt.
The Los Angeles fire broke out hours after flaming garbage in a trash truck sparked another blaze when the driver dumped his load to keep the rig from catching fire. But the dry grass quickly ignited and powerful winds blew the flames into a mobile park in Calimesa, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of downtown Los Angeles. About three-quarters of the 110 homes were wiped out and one resident died, fire officials said.
The two fires burned as power was restored to most of the nearly 2 million residents in the northern part of the state who lost electricity after the Pacific Gas and 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.
Officials had worried that gusts might topple trees on and blow other vegetation into transmission lines and start wildfires, but the move was widely criticized for targeting areas that faced no danger, and for disrupting so many lives.
Family initially blamed the outage for the death of an El Dorado County man dependent on oxygen, but the coroner later said he died from severe coronary disease.
The Los Angeles fire erupted in the neighborhood of Sylmar in a giant plume of red glowing smoke that expanded rapidly and could be seen for miles. It spread westward at a rate of 800 acres (324 hectares) an hour into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, where subdivisions crowd against the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains. About 100,000 people in over 20,000 homes were ordered to evacuate, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said.
Its cause wasn’t 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.
At least two people told LA TV stations that they saw fire near power lines around the time the blaze broke out.