Gov. Jerry Brown declares state of emergency in Los Angeles County as fire continues to rage in Verdugo Mountains

on Sep4

Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County as firefighters continue to battle a 5,900-acre brush fire in the Verdugo Mountains north of downtown Los Angeles that has destroyed three homes and shut down a stretch of the 210 Freeway.

The governor’s declaration came at the urging of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said it would ensure that state and federal assistance was provided as quickly as possible. Garcetti described the fire as the biggest in the history of the city in terms of sheer acreage.

Firefighters got some relief Sunday from a heat wave that has gripped much of the state for days. Temperatures were slightly cooler, in the mid-90s, and there were even brief showers in some burn areas as monsoonal moisture from Tropical Storm Lidia moved into the region. Winds were also calmer, but officials warned that could change quickly.

“The biggest challenge and risk is the wind,” said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.

The fire was 15% contained Sunday, he said. The number of firefighters battling the flames has doubled since Saturday morning, with more than 1,000 firefighters now on the scene. The chief said full containment of the fire is expected within three to four days.

Garcetti said that Caltrans was assessing the possibility of reopening the 210 Freeway, which is shut down between the 2 Freeway and Wheatland Avenue, Sunday night or early Monday. But he said the fire is “still very much alive” and expressed concern about changes in the weather.

“You can visually see we have turned a corner,” he said, “but this is not over.”

More than 700 area residents were evacuated in the area over the weekend. But Burbank officials allowed residents to return home late Sunday afternoon, while Glendale was planning to lift its evacuation orders at 6 p.m.

When Burbank resident Craig Bollesen stopped by to see his parents in Shadow Hills on Saturday morning, the flames seemed distant from their home. For hours, the fire appeared to be creeping slowly into the nearby valley as they packed up photographs and the quilts his mother had made, just in case.

Then Bollesen saw the flames rushing toward the house, faster than he thought he could run.

“It was exploding down the hill,” Bollesen said. “I said, ‘We need to move!’ ”

They loaded the family into their car, said a prayer and fled. Bollesen said he returned hours later to find the charred remains of his parents’ home on Green Verdugo Drive.

“We all know the danger,” Bollesen said, recounting how he and his parents had regularly worked to clear brush from around the house. Still, he said, “I don’t think it registers how quickly it changes from something that you could walk up and put out with a garden hose to a conflagration.”

By 12:30 p.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service was tracking a thunderstorm about 10 miles north of Burbank, and there was a brief shower in the Sunland area, officials said. Scattered rainfall was expected throughout the region.

The blaze has destroyed three homes and a shed, including structures in Tujunga and the house in Shadow Hills, according to fire officials. Two firefighters were transported to hospitals Saturday for dehydration.

Evacuations were temporarily lifted Saturday night in Burbank. But officials said a flare-up caused them to issue new evacuation orders in the Burbank Estates and Castleman Lane areas.

On Sunday afternoon, Tujunga resident Frankie Fronk, 46, sat on an easy chair in front of his single-story ranch style house on McGroarty Street, staring up at the recently burned ridgeline. He was looking for puffs of smoke, any sign of a flare-up.

And he’s seen a few.

Fronk said he was ordered to evacuate Saturday about 2:30 p.m. He and his wife grabbed a few mementos and their pit bull mix, Harley, and started calling around for a hotel. After checking about 10 different places, charging between $200 and $300, he finally found a place in Burbank for $135. But he returned home Sunday morning.

Fronk said that the fire later kicked up in the neighborhood, with the wind driving flames into a home up the street on Glenties Way.

The evidence of the fire was apparent on Glenties Way, where a 75-year-old resident said he wetted down the roof of his single-story home and evacuated to the bottom of the street Saturday afternoon. By then, the fire was cresting the top of the hill, said the man, who did not want to be named. Three fire engines arrived.

He returned to his house hours later with some friends to put out spot fires and smoldering embers. In the aftermath of the blaze, his 10-acre property was a charred landscape of ash, cinders and burned dirt amid a few oaks, yuccas and scrub. The flames came within 100 feet of his home, the man said.

Bob Hulbert, a 63-year-old member of the Big Tujunga volunteer fire department who lives on nearby Glenties Lane, said he used 1,500 gallons from his water truck Saturday night after fire officials came through that afternoon and told him he and his wife would be on their own because resources were needed elsewhere.

Hulbert and his wife, Deborah Hill, had already started watering down their backyard, snaking hoses up under the oaks that front the Verdugo Mountains. Hulbert, who had once seen a fire sweep through a tree canopy in Pasadena, was concerned about the oak trees.

But he was ready for a fire like this, equipped with a water cannon connected to a 30,000-gallon pool, a 500-gallon tank by the street and a 2,500-gallon water truck. The couple used the cannon to send a stream of water 150 feet into the surrounding trees. Later that night, an engine crew returned and stayed all night.

The La Tuna fire broke out Friday, with shifting winds sending flames in multiple directions. Fire crews confronted the same erratic conditions Saturday before more favorable weather conditions set in.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but officials said there is no evidence of arson. Some of the destroyed homes are believed to have lacked brush clearance, which Terrazas stressed was crucial for firefighters to be able to protect houses.

As of Sunday morning, the chief said about 25% of the fire was burning north of the 210 Freeway and the rest south of the freeway, which remained closed Sunday from the 2 Freeway to Wheatland Avenue.

Hundreds of residents in Burbank, Glendale and the Sunland and Tujunga neighborhoods of Los Angeles were ordered to evacuate on Saturday.

One of those ordered to leave Saturday was Chris Hall, 37, who was spraying the roof of his Sunland home with a garden hose when two police officers pulled up to his driveway.

“Now it’s mandatory,” one of the officers told him. “Get your stuff and go.”

Hall said he wanted to stay but did not argue. He piled important documents and cherished belongings — including photos of his daughter’s birth, birthdays and visits to the zoo — into the trunk of his Nissan Sentra.

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

In Tujunga, music teacher Valerie Keith frantically loaded her pets in her car, along with her two best violins, spilling the yogurt she had taken for breakfast. Before she left, she remembered something, dashing back inside to grab a framed photograph of her mother and a banjo made from a tambourine.

“When you have to leave for safety, then you suddenly realize what’s important,” she said.

Evacuation centers were opened in Burbank, Glendale, Sunland and Tujunga. Terrazas said Sunday that 1,000 people had shown up to the centers and that 900 had been released so far. They were not allowed, however, to return to the evacuated zones.

The fire has also displaced cats, dogs and horses. Councilwoman Rodriguez urged residents to donate hay and water buckets for horses and to consider fostering pets that have been separated from their families.

To the east, a fast-moving brush fire west of Beaumont in Riverside County that erupted Saturday afternoon has grown to 3,300 acres and forced some residents to evacuate their homes.

The Palmer fire started around 1:30 p.m. near San Timoteo Canyon Road and Fisherman’s Retreat. The fire was 15% contained as of Sunday morning.

Two small brush fires were also put out Saturday in Malibu. Another one hit near a toll plaza on the 73 tollway in Newport Beach.

The La Tuna fire has already stoked worries that mudslides could threaten the area this winter. State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) said Sunday that she was determined to make sure that restoration efforts begin quickly to minimize the chance of mudslides, saying it was going to be “a huge concern.”

Times staff writers Alene Tchekmedyian, Ruben Vives, Andrea Castillo and David Zahniser contributed to this report.

Twitter: @LATimesEmily

Twitter: @tcurwen


5:45 p.m.: This article was updated with new comments from the mayor.

4:30 p.m.: This article was updated with more comments from area residents.

1:50 p.m.: This article was updated with the governor’s declaration.

1:15 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from an evacuee.

12:40 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from the National Weather Service.

11:45 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from city and fire officials.

10:55 a.m.: This article was updated with the latest weather conditions.

9 a.m.: This article was updated with news of a local disaster declaration.

7 a.m.: This article was updated with a new Burbank evacuation order.

Originally published at 5:50 a.m.

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