1 home burned as wildfire grows to 5,000 acres and firefighters brace for more extreme heat and winds

on Sep2

A brush fire in the Verdugo Mountains north of downtown Los Angeles has burned more than 5,000 acres, making it one of the largest fires in the city’s history and one that officials warn could grow larger if erratic weather conditions continue.

Hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze overnight and into the morning, and at one point, the flames were spreading in four directions amid intense heat and wild winds. One home has burned, but no injuries have been reported, officials said Saturday.

Those firefighters will face another day of triple-digit heat in inland areas of Southern California as a heat wave that has gripped the state continues. The National Weather Service said temperatures could reach 110-115 degrees in the hottest areas, and hillside areas could experience more of the shifting winds that helped fuel what has been dubbed the La Tuna fire.

More than 700 homes in the area are under evacuation, including 300 in Burbank, 250 in Glendale and 180 in Los Angeles, officials said.

“Our priority is saving people and saving property,” Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters at a 10 a.m. news conference in Lake View Terrace, where he was joined by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“There is a lot of unburned fuel” in this area, Terrazas warned, noting that the last fire in the area was at least 30 years ago.

Both Terrazas and Garcetti said the La Tuna fire was the largest in the city’s history in terms of acreage.

“We can’t recall anything larger,” Terrazas said.

“Our biggest concern is the wind and weather,” Terrazas said. “The erratic weather is our No. 1 challenge. If there’s no wind, this is a relatively easy fire to put out. But when the wind changes, it changes our priorities because other properties become at risk.”

The fire was 10% contained Saturday morning, officials said. Winds were blowing between 10 and 15 mph, with humidity at 10% to 15%.

The combination of dry brush, high heat, low humidity and shifting winds make it possible for the fire to spread, officials said.

“We are worried about the fire hooking southeast into Glendale and working its way up into Whiting Woods area,” Garcetti said.

Late Saturday morning, the city of Glendale announced voluntary emergency evacuations in the Glenwood Oaks and Mountain Oaks neighborhoods. Residents in the city’s Whiting Woods neighborhood also were told to be prepared to leave.

Despite the size of the fire, it has destroyed only one home, in the southern region of the Sunland-Tujunga area, officials said.

Chris Hall, 37, was spraying his roof with a water hose Saturday morning when two police officers pulled up to his driveway on McGroarty Street in Sunland-Tujunga.

“Now it’s mandatory,” they told him. “Get your stuff and go.”

Hall said he wanted to stay but didn’t argue.

The officers gave him 20 minutes to pack, but Hall said he already was prepared. The night before, he organized his photos — those of his daughter’s birth, birthdays and visits to the zoo — and important documents, piling them in the trunk of his Nissan Sentra.

“Everything else can be replaced,” he said, sitting behind the wheel of his car and ready to flee.

Earlier that morning, after seeing flames creep up behind a nearby art center, he dropped his 5-year-old daughter and 12-year-old stepson, along with their pet hamster, at a friend’s home. He left their goldfish behind.

Over the last couple of weeks, as wildfires raged across California, Hall said he spent hours trimming trees and pruning bushes in case a fire erupted nearby.

“We did a lot of cleaning,” he said.

When winds pushed a band of flames over the canyon ridgeline Friday night, authorities ordered those living in the Brace Canyon Park area and Castleman Estates to “leave immediately” and head to evacuation shelters, according to an alert issued by the fire department. The Stough Canyon Nature Center also is under evacuation order.

“It was really scary,” she said. “You didn’t realize the magnitude of it.”

Heintz said she didn’t sleep. On Saturday morning, the 20 or so evacuees at the center ate a breakfast of doughnuts, cereal and fruit. Heintz, but officials predicted that soon sat outside the center, hoping she’d be able to return home wouldn’t be until 5 p.m. at the earliest. The smoky air made her bronchitis act up.

She called her husband. There was soot an inch thick in their swimming pool, she said, but at least he had gotten some sleep..

Officials warned of poor air quality throughout the region. Burbank police officers were wearing respiratory masks early Saturday and urging residents to stay indoors and avoid outside activities because of the heavy smoke.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District on Saturday recommended that children, older adults and people with respiratory disease living in smoke-impacted areas stay indoors. Air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels in portions of the east San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains, according to the air district’s smoke advisory.

Residents in smoke-impacted areas were advised to keep windows and doors closed and avoid vigorous activities, both indoors and outdoors.

“Run your air conditioner if you have one and keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside,” the AQMD smoke advisory said. “Avoid using a swamp cooler or whole-house fan to prevent bringing additional smoke inside.”

Ryan Tanker said he was driving home Friday when he saw the plumes of smoke and phoned his father. James Tanker urged his son to return to their property along Estepa Drive in Sunland-Tujunga.

The two men loaded a trailer and an RV with their possessions, including a filing cabinet full of legal documents and their collection of red wine.

“We’re not savages,” James Tanker quipped.

The Tankers and their neighbors waited outside their homes and watched periodic flare-ups — mindful that a switch in the wind could force them to evacuate.

The heat wave battering most of California has intermittently knocked out power to thousands and helped fuel more than a dozen wildfires. Downtown San Francisco set a record high of 106 degrees Friday. The old record was 103.

Fires this week in Northern California burned homes and forced numerous evacuations.


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1:05 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about evacuations.

Noon: This article has been updated with more comments from officials and evacuees.

10:50 a.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials’ news conference.

9:30 a.m.: This article was updated with new information about evacuations and weather conditions.

This article was originally posted at 8:10 a.m.

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