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Saddleridge fire 19% contained; 2 die in Sandalwood fire near LA

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A wildfire burning north of Los Angeles has forced mandatory evacuations of some 100,000 people as firefighters continue to battle the blaze driven by powerful Santa Ana winds. (Oct. 11)
AP Domestic

LOS ANGELES — The strong Santa Ana winds driving wildfires in the area have died down, but the major blaze that burned at least 31 homes continued to rage Saturday, keeping tens of thousands of residents from returning to their homes.

The National Weather Service said the winds, though weaker, were still expected to produce gusts up to 30 mph, creating dangerous fire conditions in the dry, wooded hills of northwest Los Angeles.

The Saddleridge fire that erupted Thursday night in the Sylmar neighborhood had consumed more than 7,500 acres by Saturday and was only 19% contained.

The continued threat prompted authorities to maintain Red Flag Warnings into Saturday evening for most of the threatened Southern California areas. On Saturday morning, evacuations were lifted in the Chatsworth, Deer Lake Highlands and Fern Ann Falls communities west of Mason Avenue and southwest of Corbin Avenue, in addition to smaller areas to the east. Evacuations remained in place for Porter Ranch and Sylmar.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom have issued emergency declarations because of the fire.

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More than 1,000 firefighters were trying to contain the fires driven by the dry, desert winds.

“As you can imagine, the embers from the wind have been traveling a significant distance, which causes another fire to start,” said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.

The cause of the fire was not 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.

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The fast-moving fire in areas near Granada Hills and Porter Ranch forced the evacuation of some 100,000 people in over 20,000 homes, according to Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore.

A 55-year-old man went into cardiac arrest early Friday and died while trying to fight the fire around his home with a garden hose, authorities said.

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Two people died in a second, smaller Sandalwood fire, which destroyed more than 70 mobile homes in the Calimesa area of Riverside County, 75 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The fire, sparked by garbage that caught fire in a trash truck, destroyed more than 800 acres and was only 25% contained as of Saturday.

On Saturday, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that two people had died in the Sandawood fire. One of the victims was identified as Lois Arvikson, an 89-year-old Calimesa resident.

Arvickson had called her son, Don Turner, who was with his family at an evacuation center, saying she was leaving her home as the blaze closed in.

“She said she’s getting her purse and she’s getting out, and the line went dead,” Turner said Friday as he was searching for her.

Arvickson’s neighbors had seen her in her garage as flames approached, according to Turner. A short time later the neighbors saw the garage on fire, but did not know if she’d managed to escape, he said.

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Shawn Melvin, who had been driving behind the burning trash truck blamed for the Sandalwood fire, said he pulled the driver over and tried to get him to leave the area because of the dry brush.

“He kind of looked me like, ‘What do you want me to do?’” Melvin told KCAL-TV. “That’s when I preceded to tell him, ‘Go anywhere else but here. Go on the overpass, go anywhere else but here, because you’re going to catch this place on fire.”

Melvin, whose 8-year-old son videotaped the incident, said the driver was apparently following company protocol to dump the burning trash by the road to keep from losing the truck.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory for the LA neighborhood of Reseda, in the San Fernando Valley, and said smoke was also affecting air quality in nearby areas of Topanga and Malibu.

The two fires burned as power was restored to most of the nearly 2 million residents in the northern part of the state who had lost electricity. The Pacific Gas & 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.

Contributing: Associated Press

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Los Angeles authorities say about 100,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes because of a wildfire on the northern edge of the city in the San Fernando Valley area. (Oct. 11)
AP Domestic

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/12/saddleridge-california-fire-still-preventing-people-returning-home/3957579002/



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