LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — One man has died and dozens of homes have been destroyed by the wind-driven Saddle Ridge Fire raging through the foothill communities of Sylmar, Porter Ranch and Granada Hills in Los Angeles.
Fire officials said the Saddle Ridge Fire had grown to 7,500 acres as of 1:50 p.m. Friday and was 13% contained. The fire was initially reported as a 1-acre blaze at 9 p.m. Thursday near the 210 Freeway at the Yarnell Street exit in Sylmar.
One man in his 50s died of a heart attack amid the wildfire, which damaged at least 25 homes, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said.
A firefighter was also injured, suffering a minor eye injury.
Gusty Santa Ana winds whipped up the blaze, which officials said was moving at a rate of 800 acres per hour toward the 5/14 Freeway interchange and the Santa Clarita area.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known, though some residents along Saddle Ridge Road in Sylmar said they were interviewed by investigators about a burning electrical transmission line tower they saw in the hills above their homes.
A red flag warning over the Los Angeles and Ventura County Mountains, the Santa Clarita and Ventura County valleys and the northern/western portions of the San Fernando Valley — where the Saddle Ridge Fire continued to burn — had been extended until 6 p.m. Saturday. Gusts overnight reached up to 60 mph in higher elevations, according to the National Weather Service.
About 23,000 homes — 100,000 residents — remained under mandatory evacuation orders.
Six emergency shelters were opened to evacuated residents and their small pets, but Mason Park in Chatsworth, and the recreation centers in Sylmar and Granada Hills were all at capacity. Northridge Recreation Center is still accepting evacuees. Van Nuys Rec Center and the Balboa Rec Center were opened Friday afternoon. Shepherd Church, a megachurch in Porter Ranch, was not an official evacuation center, but has been providing food and shelter to residents.
A total of 1,000 firefighters have been deployed to battle the Saddle Ridge Fire, 500 from neighboring local agencies. The department also had 25 rescue ambulances assisting with the evacuations of the elderly and disabled.
With daybreak, Terrazas said that a more thorough damage assessment could be done and that super scoopers and a Sky Crane can be deployed to also battle the blaze.
"This is a very dynamic fire," he said. "The public can help us by listening to police officers and firefighter directions, especially when we are talking about evacuations. Do not wait to leave. If we ask you to evacuate, please evacuate."
A request for assistance from FEMA was granted Friday morning as Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Riverside counties, even as eight other large fires burn uncontrolled within the state.
Sylmar's Juvenile Courthouse will be closed and cases scheduled to be heard Friday will be continued. Los Angeles Superior Court officials said cases with statutory deadlines would be heard at Eastlake Juvenile Courthouse, 1601 Eastlake Ave., in Los Angeles. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's offices in Chatsworth and San Fernando will also be closed.
SoCal Gas says its Aliso Canyon storage facility is safe and has been evacuated. Firefighters have taken up defense positions around the facility, and SoCal Gas says they don't anticipate any damage to its storage wellheads from the fire.
The fire shut down a key freeway interchange between southern and central California and caused major backups well beyond the borders of the fire. The 118 Freeway between Balboa and DeSoto was shut down, along with both directions of the 210 Freeway between the 5 and 118 freeways.
Residents who want to receive emergency alerts about the Saddle Ridge Fire can text READY to 888-777 or sign up at emergency.lacity.org/notifyla.
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