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Tens of thousands ordered to evacuate after wildfire explodes in Southern California

Over 100,000 evacuated in California wildfire
Over 100,000 evacuated in California wildfire 02:52

A wildfire raged out of control along the northern edge of Los Angeles Friday, prompting authorities to order tens of thousands of people from their homes as firefighters battled flames from the air and on the ground. Police Chief Michel Moore said about 100,000 people in over 20,000 homes were ordered to evacuate.

Two recreational facilities are reportedly already filled to capacity.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said Friday that the Saddle Ridge Fire had grown to more than 7,500 acres and was 13% contained. Approximately 4,700 acres have been consumed by the flames, leading to at least 31 structures being destroyed. One person died from cardiac arrest. A firefighter also suffered a minor eye injury.

A death was confirmed at an earlier wildfire east of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles blaze erupted around 9 p.m. Thursday along the northern tier of the San Fernando Valley as powerful Santa Ana winds swept through Southern California.

Smoke streamed across the city and out to sea. Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said there were sustained winds of 20-25 mph with gusts over 50 mph and relative humidity levels had fallen as low as 3%.

"As you can imagine the embers from the wind have been traveling a significant distance which causes another fire to start," Terrazas said. The fire erupted in Sylmar, the northernmost portion of the valley, and spread westward at a rate of 800 acres an hour into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, where subdivisions crowd against the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains.

A helicopter drops water to help fight the Saddle Ridge Fire in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles, California, on October 11, 2019.
A helicopter drops water to help fight the Saddle Ridge Fire in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles, California, on October 11, 2019. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

In response to the fires, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be offering fire management assistance to help combat the Saddle Ridge Fire. According to a press release, "the grant also enables local, state and tribal agencies to recover eligible costs."

It's unclear what caused the fire. Porter Ranch, an upper middle-class suburb that was the backdrop for the 1982 movie "E.T." is no stranger to evacuations.

Four years ago, a blowout at an underground natural gas well operated by Southern California Gas Co. in the neighboring Aliso Canyon storage facility drove 8,000 families from their homes.

Southern California Edison turned off electricity to about 20,000 people in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino and Kern counties but warned that thousands more could lose service as the Santa Ana winds gained strength. In Northern California, the lights were back on Friday for more than half of the 2 million residents who lost electricity after Pacific Gas & Electric switched it off on Wednesday to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires during dry, windy weather.

PG&E restored the power after workers inspected power lines to make sure it was safe to do so. Officials had worried the winds might topple transmission lines and start wildfires.

In Los Angeles, helicopters made repeated water drops as crews attacked flames in and around homes. Water- and retardant-dropping airplanes joined the battle after daybreak.

About 1,000 firefighters were on the lines. Edwin Bernard, 73, said he and his wife were forced to leave their four cats behind as they fled their Sylmar home.

A firefighter monitors the Saddle Ridge Fire near homes in Sylmar, California, October 10, 2019.
A firefighter monitors the Saddle Ridge Fire near homes in Sylmar, California, October 10, 2019. AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker

Bernard, standing outside the evacuation center at the Sylmar Recreation Center on Friday, said they were only able to grab their three dogs. During a previous wildfire, they'd had time to find their passports and photo albums, but not Thursday night.

"The fireman said, 'go, go, go!'" Bernard said. "It was a whole curtain of fire," he said. "There was fire on all sides. We had to leave."

Evacuations were also still in effect in the inland region east of Los Angeles where the Sandalwood Fire erupted Thursday and raged through a mobile home park in the Calimesa area of Riverside County. The fire began when a trash truck dumped burning garbage into dry grass, CBS News correspondent Errol Barnett reports.

Seventy-six buildings were destroyed and 14 others were damaged. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco told reporters Friday morning one person died in the fire; he didn't provide details about the victim.

Police were investigating whether criminal charges would be filed, Bianco said during a press conference. Another person was unaccounted for, the sheriff's department said.

Wildfire rages in California mobile home park 01:47

The missing included Don Turner's 89-year-old mother. Lois Arvickson called her son from her cellphone to say she was evacuating shortly after the blaze was reported in the small city of Calimesa, Turner said while he was with relatives at an evacuation center.

"She said she's getting her purse and she's getting out, and the line went dead," he said. Arvickson's neighbors saw her in her garage as flames approached, according to Turner.

A short time later the neighbors saw the garage on fire, but they didn't know if she'd managed to escape, he said. Melissa Brown said she moved to the mobile home complex earlier this year from Arizona, in part to help take care of her mother who has since died.

Brown said she now also faces the loss of her home. "The hardest part is my mom's remains are in there," she said Friday morning, choking back tears.

Fire danger was high throughout Southern California after the typically dry summer and early fall, and the notorious Santa Ana winds — linked to the spread of many wildfires — bring a dangerous mix of witheringly low humidity levels and powerful gusts.

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