LA Declares Emergency As Saddleridge Fire Forces 100,000 People From Their Homes

A firefighting helicopter works the Saddleridge Fire on October 11, 2019 near Porter Ranch, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

NOTE: This story is no longer being updated. Go here for the latest information on the Saddleridge Fire.

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A fast-moving fire that began near Sylmar grew by thousands of acres overnight and continued to spread throughout the day, prompting the mayor of Los Angeles to sign an emergency declaration.

The Saddleridge Fire forced mandatory evacuations of whole communities in Porter Ranch and Granada Hills and snarled traffic in the San Fernando Valley. Dozens of schools and college campuses canceled classes.

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

The fire has now burned an estimated 7,542 acres. It was just 13% contained as of the latest official report. It's burning mostly within the city of L.A., but also into parts of unincorporated L.A. County.


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"This is a very dynamic fire," Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said at a news conference Friday morning. "Do not wait to leave. If we ask you to evacuate, please evacuate."

LAPD Chief Michel Moore said mandatory evacuations are affecting more than 20,000 homes and 100,000 people.

Authorities painted a grim picture of conditions. Sustained winds in the area have been blowing at 20 mph, with gusts over 50 mph, and there's very little humidity in the air. Officials said the fire was moving at a rate of about 800 acres per hour in the morning.

Authorities also said one "civilian male" died Thursday night from cardiac arrest. One firefighter suffered an eye injury.

At least 31 structures have been destroyed.

More than 1,000 firefighters were on the scene, as well as 25 rescue ambulances who have helped evacuate the elderly and disabled. Handcrews, dozers, engines and aircraft, including Super Scoopers and air tankers, are all supporting the firefighting effort. Terrazas said his department is on "recall mode," meaning firefighters are in for a long weekend.

"Nobody's going home right away," he said. "This event's going to take a few days."

Part of the fire is burning in a CalFire "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.

BACKGROUND

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

The blaze started about 9 p.m. near Yarnell Street 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 OF THE FIRE

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

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Firefighters enter a burned house as the Saddleridge Fire grows to thousands of acres in just a few hours, in Porter Ranch in the early morning hours of Oct. 11, 2019. (David McNew/AFP via Getty Images)

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS

As of 5 p.m. Friday, evacuations were lifted for homes south of the 118 Freeway, but the remaining evacuations would remain in place until tomorrow. See below for a map.

Los Angeles police offered residents affected by the evacuations an escort home to collect their belongings. Proof of residence was required.

  • 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.

(Courtesy Los Angeles Fire Department. Full map here.)

For some, the evacuation felt like chaos.

Peter Greenhood, a 21-year-long resident of Porter Ranch, said information from authorities was lacking.

He said he was sleeping Thursday night when his partner woke up him up to say the LAPD is "going up and down our street with their bullhorns saying 'mandatory evacuation.'"

The couple was directed to Granada Hills High School, but once they arrived they noticed hardly anyone there and realized they had been given the wrong location.

"Communication is really, really poor actually," Greenhood said. "I'm just frustrated."

The couple wound up sheltering at the Granada Hills Recreation Center, but Greenhood said it has been a struggle to get updates about the fire.

"I'm just concerned about the homes up there," Greenhood said. "I'd like to know what's going on, but meanwhile nobody knows anything at all."

Greenhood said when he's needed information, he's had to leave to go to the nearby Starbucks to ask around.

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.

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," Hill said.

EVACUATION CENTERS

Authorities had to shut down the Granada Hills Recreation Center to new evacuees before dawn Friday because of the heavy demand for a place for people to shelter from the Saddleridge Fire. The facility later reopened to new arrivals. (Chava Sanchez / LAist)

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. (FULL)
  • 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.

Among the evacuees Friday was U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, whose home is in Porter Ranch.

Sherman said he was about to go to bed but checked for updates one last time on his iPad when he saw the evacuation zone had been extended into his neighborhood. He got in his car.

"October has not been a good month for Porter Ranch," Sherman said, recalling the 2008 Sesnon Fire, 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak and this latest fire.

Tom Stramat said he's on the board of directors for Porter Ranch Estates, which covers more than 1,128 homes in the evacuation zone. The group had been working on clearing big brush in the area for the past six months, a move that he credits for saving homes.

The fire "got up to the perimeter of the fencing, but it didn't get into the properties this year," Stramat said. "We're very happy."

Porter Ranch resident Sherry Johnston, who evacuated to the Granada Hills Recreation Center in the early morning with five family members and several pets, said it was clear the fire was bad.

"All we had to do is walk on the front yard and see the fire," she said. Shortly after that, she said they got a call telling them to get out.

"The guard gate called and then they were going door-to-door by the time we left," she said.

Paul Moriak, who fled his home in Porter Ranch as the Saddleridge Fire closed in, at the Granada Hills Recreation Center on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

Paul Moriak of Porter Ranch said once it was clear how serious the fire threat was, he wasted no time.

"One of my friends at work, [during] the last set of fires, last year actually, he was the one person in all of this west area that lost family," said Moriak, his voice breaking with emotion. "His mother and his brother. I don't know what happened, they just lost direction and ended up on a dead end street. All I'm thinking about is I want to get the boys out of there. I don't really give a damn about the house."

POWER AND GAS

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.

Meanwhile, L.A. Department of Water and Power officials said they acted to mitigate risk.

As of 12 p.m., Southern California Edison said it had shut off power for 20,664 customers across all five counties in its coverage area: Kern, L.A., Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties. As many as 110,000 more residents faced the possibility of a shutoff, according to spokesperson Mary Ann Milbourn.

ROAD CLOSURES

Several freeways and connections in the north Valley, including major routes to and from the Santa Clarita Valley, were closed.

Closed, per Caltrans:

  • SB 14 at Newhall Ave (14 expected to reopen but a slow lane will remain closed)
  • 210 Freeway between the 5 and 118 freeways

SCHOOL CLOSURES

Los Angeles Unified School officials said fire danger and poor air quality led to the decision to close more than 35 schools on Friday (this list has been growing throughout the morning and may be updated):

  • Bert Corona Charter School
  • Bert Corona High School
  • Birmingham Community Charter High School
  • Castlebay Lane Charter
  • Danube Avenue Elementary
  • Discovery Charter Preparatory School #2
  • El Camino Real Charter High School
  • El Oro Way Charter for Enriched Studies
  • Fenton Avenue Elementary Charter School
  • Fenton Avenue Primary Center
  • Fenton Charter Leadership Academy
  • Fenton STEM Academy Elementary Center
  • Frost Middle School
  • Granada Hills Charter High School
  • Haskell Elementary STEAM Magnet
  • High Tech Los Angeles Middle School
  • Ingenium Schools (all locations)
  • Ivy Academia Charter School
  • James Jordan Middle School
  • Jane Addams Continuation High School
  • John F. Kennedy High School
  • Knollwood Preparatory Academy
  • Magnolia Public Schools 1,2,5,7
  • Montague Charter Academy
  • New Academy Canoga Park
  • North Valley Military Institute
  • Our Community Charter School
  • Porter Ranch Community School
  • PUC Valley Schools (all locations)
  • Rinaldi Adult School
  • Valley Charter Elementary School
  • Valley Charter Middle School
  • Valley International Preparatory High School
  • Valor Academy Charter Schools (all locations)
  • Van Gogh Charter
  • Vaughn Next Century Learning Center
  • Village Charter Academy
  • West Valley Occupational Center

LAUSD officials said a minimum-day schedule is in place for "all schools in Local District Northwest and Northeast" due to poor air quality.

The district also said it has canceled all planned after-school activities in the San Fernando Valley.

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 Emily Elena Dugdale and Sharon McNary have been covering the story on the ground near the scene of the fire, along with photojournalist Chava Sanchez. Reporter Jacob Margolis reported from the command center at Hansen Dam. Reporter Josie Huang and our KPCC newscast producers have been making calls. Digital producers Ryan Fonseca, Lisa Brenner and Brian Frank have been 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 was updated frequently throughout the day and was originally published at 6:39 a.m.


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