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Saddleridge Fire races through 7,542 acres, kills 1; 13 percent containment

by Alma Fausto, Orange County Register |

The rapidly moving Saddleridge fire in northern Los Angeles had spread to 7,542 acres by Friday afternoon, leaving charred homes in its path and resulting in one death.

Officials said 23,000 homes were affected by evacuations, displacing 100,000 residents, including the entire neighborhood of Porter Ranch.

Approximately 1,000 firefighters are were battling the flames, which were moving at a rate of 800 acres an hour, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said at a Friday morning news conference.

Terrazas said the gusts have continued to push the flames quickly into other areas: “The embers from the wind have been traveling a significant distances, which causes another fire to start.”

The blaze is at 13 percent containment, fire officials said Friday afternoon.

About 25 homes have been burned, although Terrazas said officials still have to do a more thorough evaluation of damages.

Terrazas also announced that a man, in his late 50s, had gone into cardiac arrest and died. He did not have many details about the fatality, but he said firefighters were with the man when he went into cardiac arrest and he was taken to a hospital where he died.

A firefighter was also hospitalized with a minor eye injury.

The Saddleridge blaze spread into the northern San Fernando Valley foothills and forced tens of thousands of evacuations and closed freeways snarling traffic during the morning commute.

Interstate 5 is California’s major north-south route, with it closed, U.S. Highway 101 is the only major alternative approaching Los Angeles from the north, officials said.

The flames were aided by the gusty winds reaching 60 miles per hour that blew into Southern California.

The fire was initially reported about 9 p.m. Thursday, as burning brush moving uphill near the 210 Freeway and Yarnell Street in Sylmar.

Flames jumped Interstate 5, setting off a separate blaze that rapidly burned west of the highway near Granada Hills and Porter Ranch.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Deputy David Richardson explained that there’s still “a lot of potential for growth in this fire.”

Firefighters worked through the night to evacuate the elderly and disabled.

Another concern was that the fire was creeping closer to the Aliso Canyon gas facility. Fire officials said Friday that the facility, near Porter Ranch, was not threatened. The facility was the site of the massive gas gas leak in 2015 which lasted months and sickened residents.

In the midst of the firefight, Southern California Edison has shut off power to up to 21,044 customers as of Friday afternoon. Another 110,001 customers are at risk of losing power, the utility says.

As day broke Friday, fire officials were able to start using super scoopers and more aircraft.

The Los Angeles Fire Department was in a recall mode, which means all firefighters are staying put until further notice. “Nobody’s going home right away,” Terrazas said. “This event is going to take a few days.”

Officials repeatedly asked residents to evacuate if ordered. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said he had seen residents staying behind and attempting to combat the flames with garden hoses.

“Those individuals placed not only themselves in imminent peril but they placed first responders ... in that same perilous condition because of our need and the desire to go in and try to rescue them,” Moore said.