Containment Efforts Continue on Saddleridge Fire Ahead of Gusting Winds

Saddleridge Fire Scorches 7,500 Acres In LA County, Thousands Evacuated

PORTER RANCH (CNS) - With strong winds and red flag conditions forecast for today and through the weekend, firefighters battling the Saddleridge Fire in northern San Fernando Valley worked to increase containment lines and extinguish hot spots.

The fire -- which has burned close to 8,400 acres -- destroyed 19 structures and damaged 88 more since it erupted about 9 p.m. Oct. 10 off the westbound Foothill (210) Freeway near Yarnell Street and Saddle Ridge Road in Sylmar.

The blaze was 68% contained as of about 7:30 a.m. Friday.

The National Weather Service reported that winds in the area were blowing at 25 mph and would get stronger.

Los Angeles police warned that “smoldering embers can pick up and start again” and urged people to immediately call 911 if fire is spotted.

“Firefighters worked hard... in rugged terrain throughout the burn area to increase containment lines and address hot spots,” according to a statement from the unified command, made up of the Los Angeles city and county and Angeles National Forest fire departments.

“Tactical patrols will remain in place... to monitor the area for smoldering debris. (Thursday night) will bring gusty winds that are expected to increase Friday morning.”

After breaking out, the fire quickly spread due to wind-blown embers that jumped the Golden State (5) Freeway spreading flames into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch. At the height of the fire, an estimated 100,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders, all of which have since been lifted.

Fire crews have been aided in recent days by calm winds, but those conditions were not going to hold.

“Gusty northwesterly winds are expected (Thursday) evening through Sunday, especially across Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties,” according to the National Weather Service. “The strongest winds will be (Thursday) into early Friday, and Saturday night into Sunday. Weak to moderate Santa Ana winds are expected Sunday through Thursday.”

Forecasters said the Antelope Valley and Golden State (5) Freeway corridor through the Santa Clarita Valley were likely to experience the highest winds.

Given the forecasted winds, Southern California Edison again warned of possible “Public Safety Power Shutoffs,” meaning transmission lines in danger of being damaged by high winds could be de-energized to prevent possible wildfires, but resulting in customers losing power.

As of Thursday morning, more than 33,000 SCE customers were in areas under consideration for power shutoffs, including 2,885 in Los Angeles County. The Los Angeles County areas being considered are Acton, Gorman, Mount Baldy, San Antonio Heights and the Antelope Valley.

The cause of the Saddleridge Fire remains undetermined, but the point of origin was identified by LAFD arson investigators as a 50-foot-by-70-foot area beneath a Southern California Edison high-voltage transmission tower near Saddle Ridge Road, officials said.

“There is no evidence of a homeless encampment in the immediate area,” according to the LAFD. “In addition to LAFD personnel, there are investigators from Southern California Edison and private insurance companies at the site. Investigators continue to work around the clock in steep terrain, thoroughly examining all aspects of the scene in an attempt to determine a cause.”

On Monday, Southern California Gas Co. crews alerted firefighters about flames burning in a roughly 4-foot-by-4-foot patch of soil on the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility property in Porter Ranch. Fire officials said the small blaze did not pose any risks to the public or the storage facility.

That fire was extinguished on Tuesday afternoon, according to SoCalGas.

Saddleridge Fire Scorches 7,500 Acres In LA County, Thousands Evacuated

The utility said it believes the fire was from old crude oil activity, but won't know for certain until the state's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the Air Quality Management District conducts its own tests, ABC7 reported.

SoCalGas officials stressed there was no damage to any equipment at the storage facility and no sign of any leaks. The small fire did not “pose a risk to public safety and there are no impacts to SoCalGas operations at the facility,” according to the Gas Co.

Videos of what appeared to be fires within the sewer system at the Porter Ranch Town Center alarmed some residents who thought the flames might be connected to the extinguished Aliso Canyon flame. Investigators believe there is no connection and have not witnessed any active underground fire threats in the area, according to the LAFD's Nicholas Prange.

Fire-affected residents who attended a community meeting Wednesday night claimed the city's reverse 911 system that was supposed to alert residents in the event of an emergency didn't work when the fire erupted.

The city blamed cell towers that suffered damage in the fire, ABC7 reported. One Granada Hills resident told the station her cousin in Thousand Oaks was the one who sent her the mandatory evacuation message.

A Porter Ranch resident, identified by neighbors as 54-year-old Aiman Elsabbagh, died of a heart attack Friday morning while trying to protect his home from the fire. LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the man was speaking to firefighters when he went into cardiac arrest, and he died at a hospital.

Los Angeles Park Ranger Capt. Alberto Torres, 67, suffered a heart attack Friday at Ranger Headquarters at the Griffith Park Visitor Center, at 4730 Crystal Springs Drive and died the next morning at a hospital.

Torres -- a ranger for more than 40 years -- had been patrolling the parks impacted by the fire.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday ordered all city flags to lowered to half-staff in honor of Torres.

Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries, including one with an eye injury, fire officials said.

Photos: Getty Images

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