Saddleridge Fire: Origin Is Pinpointed Under Power Lines But Cause Remains Under Investigation

The wind-driven Saddleridge Fire has burned nearly 8,400 acres. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Note: This story is no longer being updated. For the latest updates on the Saddleridge Fire, please check the LAFD's incident page.

As fire crews continue to battle flames in the Saddleridge fire, authorities said they have determined the fire broke out under a "high voltage transmission tower" in Sylmar on Thursday night.

SoCal Edison spokesperson Susan Cox told KPCC/LAist on Monday that their system was "impacted near the reported time of the fire" and that "out of an abundance of caution, we notified the California Public Utilities Commission."

Cox added that the company "understands this is a difficult time for the many people that are being impacted by the Saddleridge Fire in Los Angeles County."


Jump to: Evacuations | Local Assistance Center | Road Closures | School Closures | Air Quality | Resources


Authorities said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Los Angeles Fire Department officials said in a statement that they've narrowed the origin of the nearly 8,400-acre fire to a 50' x 70' area beneath a high voltage transmission tower. Authorities said they found "no evidence of a homeless encampment in the immediate area."

That report came three days after authorities said they were investigating a report from a witness who said that he spotted the fire at the base of an electrical tower behind his Sylmar home at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

The findings so far came in the wake of power companies in California preemptively shutting off power in both the northern and southern parts of the state last week due to high fire danger caused by dry conditions and strong winds.

Meanwhile, smoke advisories for portions of the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys and the western San Gabriel Mountains were discontinued at noon on Monday. The fire is 46% contained, as of the latest official report Wednesday, but was no longer burning near homes.

Firefighters are taking advantage of lower wind speeds and temperature, plus an increase in humidity.

"This weather greatly enhanced firefighters' ability to mop up remaining hot spots.," authorities said.

The fire is considered a "dirty burn," LAFD spokesman Nicholas Prange told LAist Monday, meaning there's still some unburned vegetation in the footprint of the blaze. If the winds kick back up, that could ignite some of that unburned brush.

"That's why it's important for us to get in the burn footprint and mop up," he said.

More than 17,600 homes and other structures were threatened by the blaze, but saved by firefighters, said LAFD spokesman Erik Scott.

  • Acreage: 8,391 acres
  • Containment: 46%
  • Mandatory evacuations: All evacuations have been lifted
  • Structures destroyed: 19
  • Structures damaged: 88
  • Resources deployed: about 1,175 personnel across all agencies, including Los Angeles' city and county fire departments, along with crews from CalFire
  • Air quality: Smoke advisories discontinued as of noon on Monday

On Thursday night, a man — identified by authorities only as a "civilian male" — went into cardiac arrest and later died at a local hospital.

Six firefighters have been treated for minor injuries, authorities said.

On Friday night, veteran L.A. Park Ranger Capt. Alberto Torres went into cardiac arrest at the Griffith Park Visitor Center and died Saturday morning at a local hospital, according to L.A. Park Rangers. Torres had been patrolling the parks impacted by the fire, according to authorities.

An employee of the Park Rangers for 40 years, Torres also had a hand in developing a citywide unit geared towards outreach to the homeless.

L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer posted a tribute to Torres on Twitter.

MYSTERY FIRE AT ALISO CANYON

On Monday, LAFD officials were alerted by the Southern California Gas Company that a fire was burning within the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, which is in the burn footprint of the Saddleridge Fire.

The fire burned overnight and was extinguished Tuesday afternoon, SoCalGas spokeswoman Patrice Clayton told LAist.

"At this time there are no indications that the cause of the fire was natural gas related and there are no indications of a natural gas leak," Clayton said.

It was unclear what exactly had caught fire. The incident was described by fire officials as "an active flame, approximately 4' x 4' in the soil." Infrared cameras and methane monitoring equipment were used to investigated the source, but LAFD officials said the fire did not pose a public safety risk and there was "no indications of damage to the company's active natural gas infrastructure."

"South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), Los Angeles County Fire Department and SoCalGas are analyzing samples to determine what chemicals were involved in the flame," LAFD officials said.

State Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas, released a statement Tuesday afternoon, calling for "full transparency" from the gas company regarding the incident.

"Any mystery at Aliso Canyon, especially one involving a fire, is unacceptable given the history of the blowout and the legacy of distrust that follows it," Stern said.

FIRE PERIMETER

Below are the boundaries of the fire, as of 9 a.m. Wednesday. Fire perimeter data comes from GeoMac, a multi-agency, internet-based mapping effort via USGS.

HOW IT STARTED

The fire started about 9 p.m. Thursday 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.

At one point, mandatory evacuations affected more than 20,000 homes and 100,000 people, and more than 20,000 customers had their power shutoff.

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

By Saturday evening, the Santa Ana winds that drove the rapid growth of the fire initially had subsided, helping fighters improve and expand containment lines, according to the L.A. County Fire Department.

MANDATORY EVACUATIONS

LAFD lifted all evacuation orders related to the fire on Saturday evening. Still, local authorities and politicians urged residents to be proactive by paying close attention to news reports and signing up for alerts through the city.

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

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.

The U.S. Forest Service announced Monday that a portion of the Angeles National Forest, including roads and trails, is now closed due to the fire. A map of the closed off area can be viewed here.

Firefighters work in an area scorched by the Saddleridge Fire on Oct. 12, 2019 in Porter Ranch. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

LOCAL ASSISTANCE CENTER

Authorities announced a Local Assistance Center will open on Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Sylmar Recreation Center, 13109 Borden Ave. The center will serve as "a one-stop-shop with critical government services and information" for residents impacted by the fire, according to officials.

The center will be open 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 8 to 4 p.m. on weekends, from Thursday through next Saturday, Oct. 26. For more information, call 213-507-7395.

ROAD CLOSURES

All freeways, connectors and truck routes in the area closed from the fire were reopened late Saturday night, according to Caltrans.

SCHOOL CLOSURES

All schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District resumed classes on Monday. Cal State Northridge, which canceled classes and closed its campus Friday through Sunday due to the fire, also reopened Monday, officials said.

AIR QUALITY

As of noon on Oct. 14, all smoke advisories relating to the Saddleridge Fire have been discontinued.

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

Our KPCC newscast producers made calls. Digital producers Ryan Fonseca and Jessica Ogilvie are 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


Correction: A previous version of this story stated that a "civilian male" who died from cardiac arrest was later identified as an L.A. city park ranger. The "civilian male," who died Thursday night, as not been identified by officials. L.A. City Park Ranger Capt. Alberto Torres went into cardiac arrest Friday and died Saturday morning. LAist regrets the error.


UPDATES:

Wednesday, Oct. 16, 9 a.m.: This article was updated with the the latest figures on the fire burn acreage, containment and damage as of Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, Oct. 15, 11:05 a.m.: This article was updated with information about a fire at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.

Tuesday, Oct. 15, 8:28 a.m.: This article was updated with the latest containment figure.

Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6:56 a.m.: This article was updated with the latest figures on the fire burn acreage, containment and damage.

12:32 p.m.: This article was updated with information about Alberto Torres, the veteran park ranger who suffered a fatal heart attack after patrolling burn areas.

12:58 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect the fact that smoke advisories have been discontinued.

2:43 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from a SoCal Edison spokesperson regarding an impact to the company's system on the day the fire began.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m. on Oct. 14, 2019.