LOS ANGELES COUNTY — Firefighters in California are scrambling to contain multiple fires in the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
On Saturday, the Saddleridge fire in Los Angeles County was 19% contained. But it is just one of the several blazes in Southern California. Fire crews are also battling several smaller fires: the Wolf Fire is 90% contained; the Sandalwood Fire is 25% contained and the Briceburg Fire is 49% contained.
The National Weather Center has left in place red-flag warnings until 6pm PT on Saturday for Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. They are expecting gusty offshore winds, and combined with the very dry conditions it means there is a high risk of fire into Saturday afternoon.
So far, the wildfire in northern Los Angeles has destroyed 31 homes and burned more than 7,500 acres, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. More than 1,000 firefighters have been battling the blaze.
A firefighter suffered an injury to his eye, but no deaths have been linked to the fire, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters.
About 100,000 people were forced to evacuate homes in several Los Angeles neighborhoods when the blaze began spreading rapidly, fueled by strong Santa Ana winds and low humidity.
In Porter Ranch, Andro Mammo drove his siblings away from the flames as fast as he could when the fire reached their home.
“When I looked out in my backyard, I saw flames and I saw how close it was, and my number one instinct wasn’t to grab clothes or anything, but it was to get my little brother and my little sister,” Mammo recalled.
Some residents have been allowed back in or near their homes, but city officials said the danger is not over yet.
“It’s not the fire itself but the danger of wind that can bring an ember blowing it someplace and seeing entire neighborhood overnight getting lit up,” Garcetti said.
The Saddleridge Fire jumped two freeways
The Saddleridge Fire started on Thursday around 9 p.m. ET and jumped the Interstate 210 and 5 freeways, and some parts those roads and the 405 were closed as orange embers lit up the night sky. By late Thursday it had gutted 60 acres; just hours later, it had grown to more than 4,000 acres, fire officials said.
The fire’s cause was not immediately known.
Hector Landeros, who lives in northern Los Angeles’ Sylmar neighborhood, said he heard fire trucks and police cruisers speeding through the streets as the massive flames got closer.
“In some areas, the streets have started to empty but at the front lines, people are watching, waiting on the sidewalk, not really knowing what to do,” he told CNN early Friday. “There are a lot of people trying to get into their neighborhoods.”
Shaun Butch said he saw flames on both sides of the freeway while driving on Interstate 5.
“Everything was engulfed in smoke and visibility was so low it was hard to drive. Everyone on the Interstate 5 north was stopped and trapped. Still was able to barely get through on the Interstate 5 north.”
Patsy Zamora said as she drove on the freeway with the fire next to the truck route, she could feel the heat through the windows.
In Porter Ranch, firefighters from neighboring Orange County arrived just in time to stop the fire from charging into the home of Francisco and Flora Villalta Friday morning.
A CNN crew watched as firefighters shot water through the spaces of the Villaltas’ fence — halting the flames right at the property’s edge after they came up the nearby hills.
“I was just crying, because (I thought) our house is gone,” Flora Villalta said. “But then … the fire truck (came). We were praying for someone.”
In Sylmar, Mojdan Darabi’s husband was spraying their house and yard with a garden hose, CNN affiliate KABC reported. They both stood outside, anxiously watching flames in the nearby hillsides.
“Yes, I’m worried, but I’m just shooting water everywhere to stop the fire from over here,” he said.
Poor air quality prompted school closures
Classes were canceled at about 40 schools in the Los Angeles area after poor air quality was reported, Sgt. Rudy Perez with Los Angeles School Police Department said.
Perez said all the schools in the San Fernando Valley were closed midday and all after-school activities were canceled Friday.
A number of colleges and other schools also closed Friday because of the fire, including California State University Northridge and Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar.
The Los Angeles Unified school district closed dozens of schools and said bus service throughout the district would be delayed.
Classes in the Santa Clarita area also are being canceled, officials said.
Other fires in the region
The Saddleridge Fire is one of several burning in Southern California.
Another blaze — the Sandalwood Fire in Calimesa, some 70 miles east of Los Angeles — has killed at least one person, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. Details about that death weren’t immediately available.
The fire, which started as a trash fire that spread to vegetation, has destroyed at least 76 structures since it began Thursday afternoon, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said. It has burned more than 820 acres and was at least 25% contained by Saturday.
“It started just eating up vegetation as fast as the eye can see,” he said.
Residents are under mandatory evacuation orders, and 250 firefighters are assigned to the area.
Less than 20 miles away in Moreno Valley, the Reche Fire has burned at least 350 acres and was 85% contained. The fire went from 100 to 200 acres in about 90 minutes, before nearly doubling two hours later. Mandatory evacuations have been issued in surrounding areas, and the cause is under investigation.
Southern California Edison cut power to almost 24,000 customers Thursday to prevent wildfires caused by high winds downing live power equipment.
In Northern California, utility Pacific Gas & Electric also cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers this week, similarly hoping to prevent wildfires during windy conditions.