SYLMAR, CA — The wind-driven Saddleridge Fire broke out in Sylmar Thursday night, quickly spreading to 7,500 acres, forcing the evacuation of more than 100,000 people and destroying dozens of homes. The stunningly fast-moving fire jumped the Golden State (5) Freeway and burned into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, threatening hundreds of homes while shutting down freeways and schools in northeastern Los Angeles.
By Friday morning, the blaze was zero percent contained. The fire had burned 4,600 acres in less than six hours and was expected to spread into Ventura County, Los Angeles County Chief Deputy Dave Richardson said at an early morning news conference. The blaze instantly became one of the more catastrophic fires to hit Los Angeles because it raged toward the densely populated suburbs of LA’s San Fernando Valley. By Friday morning, the Saddleridge Fire had destroyed dozens of homes and took one life.
More than a dozen schools were closed as were portions of the 405, 5, 210 and 118 Freeways. At least 25 homes have been destroyed, according to LAFD. The massive fire prompted a mandatory evacuation order for all residents of Porter Ranch. As of Friday afternoon, fire officials said the flames were primarily advancing on the fire’s northern flank.
One man collapsed as he talked to firefighters while trying to protect his home, later dying at the hospital. Fire and police officials implored residents to heed evacuation orders and flee to safety, noting that holdouts endanger first responders.
“Those individuals placed not only themselves in imminent peril, but they placed first responders such as police and fire officials in that same perilous condition because of our need and desire to go in and try to rescue them,” LAPD Chief Moore told the Los Angeles Times. “When you’re told to leave, we mean for you to leave. It’s for your safety, it will save your life. If you stay in those areas we cannot guarantee you that we’ll be able to find you if you’re overcome by flames.”
Many residents in Porter Ranch spent the night watching the distant flames march closer, waiting for mandatory evacuation orders that came just before the flames and ashes did.
Cece Merkerson Merkerson watched the flames burn toward her Porter Ranch home in disbelief. When the evacuation orders fime after 2 a.m., she knew most of her neighbors weren’t ready.
“I started knocking on all my neighbors’ doors because I knew they were sleeping,” she told the Times. “I’m banging and banging and I woke up about eight of them — and they all looked at me like I was crazy.”
Many fled with little more than their wallets, keys and medications. As the day wore on Friday, there was still no indication that would be able to return home soon. Most still didn’t know if they would have a home to return to.
The flames also created a traffic nightmare, with all freeways from the north into the Porter Ranch area blocked during the morning commute. Closures that had been implemented on the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway were lifted by late morning, and other stretches were reopened as the day went on.
Saddleridge Fire Updates as of 10:25 p.m.
Acres Burned: 7,500
- the southbound Antelope Valley (14) Freeway at Newhall Avenue;
- the westbound Foothill (210) Freeway at the Ronald Reagan Freeway;
- the eastbound Foothill Freeway at the Golden State Freeway;
- the southbound Golden State Freeway connector ramp to the eastbound Foothill Freeway;
- the eastbound Ronald Reagan Freeway connector ramps to the westbound Foothill Freeway
- the northbound San Diego Freeway.
Evacuations: More than 100,000 people were under mandatory evacuation in all of Porter Ranch, Oakridge Estates north of 210 Freeway, Foothill and Glenoaks areas, Granada Hills to the Ventura County line. However, at 5 p.m., the evacuation order was lifted for all homes south of the 118 Freeway, and Los Angeles police were arranging escorts for people in other areas to briefly return to their homes to collect important documents, medications or other needed items.
The Los Angeles Police Department asked for the public’s patience Friday in waiting to be escorted to their residences from the following locations:
- the Porter Ranch Town Center;
- the Target store at the northwest corner of Balboa and San Fernando Mission boulevards;
- the Sylmar Recreation Center.
Officials confirmed openings at the following shelters Friday night
- Mason Recreation Center, 10500 Mason Ave. in Chatsworth;
- Granada Hills Recreation Center, 16730 Chatsworth St.;
- Northridge Recreation Center, 18300 Lemarsh St.; and
- Lanark Recreation Center, 21816 Lanark St. in Canoga Park.
The shelter at the Sylmar Recreation Center, 13109 Borden Ave., is currently filled to capacity
Structures Burned: At least 25 homes
Fatalities: One man suffered a cardiac arrest while trying to protect his home
Injuries: One firefighter suffered a minor injury
Forecasters said winds were expected to slowly diminish throughout Friday afternoon and into Saturday morning, but the humidity was not expected to increase until Saturday night at the earliest.
About 330 juveniles and staff from the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall at 16350 Filbert St. in Sylmar were evacuated Friday morning. The Sylmar Juvenile Courthouse at the same location was also closed. Court officials said all cases on calendar Friday were postponed, except those with “statutory deadlines,” which were being heard at the Eastlake Juvenile Courthouse, 1601 Eastlake Ave., Los Angeles.
Roughly 1,000 firefighters from LAFD, Los Angeles County Fire Department and Angeles National Forest were on the ground battling the flames, aided by water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropping fire retardant.
The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power reported overnight that about 2,500 customers had lost power in the Granada Hills and Sylmar areas. The utility noted that much of the power to Porter Ranch is provided through underground lines, but there had been damage to two overhead circuits and 16 power poles. As of about 8 a.m., DWP reported that 870 customers were without power — all within the mandatory evacuation area. That number was reduced to 21 customers by early Friday afternoon.
The utility had cut power to some overhead power lines Thursday night to assist with the firefighting efforts. The placement of the power lines in the area added to the hazards facing helicopter pilots trying to drop water on the flames.
The blaze was reported shortly after 9 p.m., and by 12:30 a.m. it had scorched more than 1,600 acres as wind gusts of up to 60 mph propelled the blaze forward, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department’s John Ferrer. It broke our near the westbound Foothill Freeway, near Yarnell Street and Saddle Ridge Road, according to Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Video posted on social media showed the fire burning some homes in the area and engulfing a row of Frito Lay trucks despite the efforts of firefighters who took a stand from atop the row of trucks with hoses aimed at the approaching flames.
Video from ABC7 showed homes on fire on Jolette Avenue north of Sesnon Boulevard in Granada Hills.
The LAPD went on tactical alert Thursday night to help evacuate residents who live near the 210 freeway and Yarnell in Sylmar.
As of about 10:50 p.m., the fire had blackened 60 acres and embers being tossed from the main fire sparked smaller fires in the area, Stewart told KCAL9.
Firefighters were focused on structural defense and protecting lives and property, Stewart said.
The spot fire that jumped the 5 Freeway Thursday night burned in the area to the area west of the freeway and west of Balboa, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Police “are working with LAFD to carry out any necessary evacuations,” the LAPD tweeted. “If you live in the area of the 210 freeway and Yarnell (Street) in Sylmar, we urge you to be prepared & follow all public safety instructions.”
Video showed several trucks on fire at a business in the area. KCAL9 reported the business was Inline Distributing Co., located at 14093 Balboa Blvd.
City News Service and Patch staffers contributed to this report
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