Sand Fire: More evacuations ordered as wildfire grows over 33,000 acres

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Fire personnel are still battling a brush fire that began Friday afternoon near Sand Canyon in the Santa Clarita area. The Sand Fire doubled in size twice over the weekend, has shut access to the 14 Freeway for hours at a time in both directions, and forced thousands of evacuations.

Authorities said at least 18 structures have burned although the exact number is still unclear. More than 10,300 structures were threatened as of Sunday night, according to Justin Correll, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. About 10 p.m. Sunday authorities said the fire had grown to 33,117 acres.

Shifting winds on Sunday pushed the fire northeast toward Acton and Agua Dulce. Residents of Palmdale and Little Rock should be on alert, authorities said, as the fire remains erratic and extreme.

This story is no longer being updated.

Overview | Damages | Evacuations | Road Closures | Air Quality

Updates 

http://firetracker.scpr.org/oembed?url=http://firetracker.scpr.org/sand-fire-los-angeles-2016/

UPDATE 7:00 p.m.: Crews struggle to keep pace with growing Sand Fire 

Fire officials are scrambling to get a handle on the expanding Sand Fire Sunday night. 

Incident spokesman Jay Nichols said the fire has expanded and burned more homes, but how far and how many isn't yet clear as crews continue to map it and assess the damage to homes. When asked if the fire was now out of control, Nichols said that would be an accurate way to describe it. 

Afternoon winds whipped up the fire and caused it to spread erratically, prompting sheriff's officials to issue a new slew of evacuation notices Sunday evening. 

Monday is expected to be cooler, Nichols said, but winds are expected to continue. 

UPDATE 5:15 p.m.: Flames visible from downtown Santa Clarita

 The more heavily populated parts of Santa Clarita are facing a significantly higher threat from the fire.  Around 5 p.m. flames, which had not previously been visible in downtown Santa Clarita, jumped a ridge in Placerita Canyon. The flames were less than a mile from where KPCC reporter Emily Guerin and many locals had gathered to watch the progress of the Sand Fire — the parking lot of a Target at Golden Valley Rd & Lost Canyon Rd. 

UPDATE 3:26 p.m.: 14 Freeway closed for 40 miles

"The fire has picked up in intensity," Justin Correll of the Forest Service tells KPCC. With all of the elements — heat, wind and dry conditions — working in the fire's favor, he says, "The fire is racing up canyon." 

Sat., July 23: A panoramic image of the Culver City skyline, darkened by smoke from the Sand Fire.
Sat., July 23: A panoramic image of the Culver City skyline, darkened by smoke from the Sand Fire. Photograph by Ashley Merryman

In some places, fire crews are seeing flames that are more than 30 feet high. The fire has also grown larger than 22,000 acres but authorities probably won't issue new numbers until a 6 p.m. conference Sunday night. The 14 Freeway is closed for a 40-mile stretch in both directions, between the 5 Freeway and Avenue N. Acton remains the main community threatened by the Sand Fire's current path. New evacuations have been ordered for Sierra Highway and Shady Lane to Sierra Highway at the 14 Freeway and Escondido at the 14 Freeway to Sierra Highway at the 14 Freeway.

UPDATE 1:42 p.m.: Evacuations remain in place as winds rise

 Authorities had planned to lift evacuations at 1 p.m. Sunday for some residents near Sand Canyon and Placerita Canyon roads. But shortly before 1 p.m., they announced that due to changing winds, residents of Sand Canyon would not be allowed back in. Around 1:20 p.m., new evacuations were added for Agua Dulce north to the 14 Freeway, Crown Valley north to the 14 Freeway, all of Soledad Canyon between those two areas and Bootlegger Canyon.

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OVERVIEW

More than 1,673 firefighters are fighting the blaze with the help of 122 engines, 39 hand crews, 15 helicopters and 8 dozers. Crews will face temperatures as high as 97 degrees on Sunday. 

The Sand Fire started shortly after 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, near northbound Freeway 14 and Sand Canyon Road. The cause of fire remains unknown.

At a Saturday press conference, Daryl L. Osby of the L.A. County Fire Department emphasized the environmental factors fueling the fire.

"Five years ago if we had this similar fire, we would probably have caught this fire at the ridge," Osby said. "Because this is the fifth year of an ongoing drought, we have a lot of dry vegetation and some fuels that haven't burned in decades."

At a press conference on Sunday, Osby reiterated that message: "This is the fifth year of an ongoing drought so we have very extreme fire behavior. I recognize some of our citizens have seen fires before but these are not normal times."

Drone activity on Sunday afternoon occurred over the fire in the Bear Divide Area. No details on how this affected efforts to fight the Sand Fire.

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DAMAGES

At a Sunday press conference, John Tripp of the L.A. County Fire Department said most of the 18 structures that were destroyed were consumed when fire came down from Bear Divide "like a freight train."

"Things got in alignment yesterday and that fire came through like a freight train. We had to put 90 fire engines with firefighters in conditions where they could not see the front of their fire engines because the fire was coming in the backyards of homes."

Derek Hunt, the owner of popular film location Sable Ranch, tells our media partner NBC Los Angeles that sets on his property were destroyed: "Unfortunately you can only do so much when it was a horrific fire storm, I guess you can say as it came down there on us. But at some point you know you're defeated and you have to step back and save what you can."

With its stables and turn-of-the-century adobe hacienda, Sable Ranch was used in numerous films and TV shows including "Men In Tights," "Maverick" and "The A-Team."

AP reports that the body of a man was discovered in a burned car outside a home in Santa Clarita on Saturday. The death is under investigation, but sheriff's officials say there's no evidence it was a crime.

EVACUATIONS

Gary Laferla, who evacuated his Placerita Canyon home Saturday, had planned to return Sunday but was turned away at a checkpoint just after 1 p.m. "At the end of the day, we knew it was like this. We've been here eight years. It beats living in the city. God's been good. We pray. He's kept our house through huge stuff, earthquakes, fires. There's nothing we can do. You gotta trust God," he tells KPCC.

Here's what to know when you're asked to evacuate. 

Mandatory evacuations are in place for:

  • Areas east of the 14 Freeway from Golden Valley Road to Sand Canyon Road, excluding Sand Canyon Mobile Home Park.
  • The east side of Via Princessa from Lost Canyon to the end of Via Princessa and all streets east. Lost Canyon Road fm Via Princessa to Santa Clara River and all streets east.
  • Sand Canyon from Lost Canyon to Bear Divide (extended from Robinson Ranch Golf Course)
  • Placerita Canyon from the Nature Center to Sand Canyon
  • Little Tujunga from Bear Divide to LA River Ranger District (Station), 12371 Little Tujunga Canyon Rd.
  • Agua Dulce north to the 14 Freeway
  • Crown Valley north to the 14 Freeway
  • All of Soledad Canyon in between
  • Bootlegger Canyon
  • Sierra Highway and Shady Lane to Sierra Highway at the 14 Freeway 
  • Escondido at the 14 Freeway to Sierra Highway at the 14 Freeway

(For a map of the area, see KPCC's Fire Tracker tool)

Residents of Palmdale and the Little Rock area should also be prepared to evacuate, sheriff's officials said. 

Evacuation centers for residents are located:

  • Lakeview Terrace Rec Center - 11075 Foothill Blvd., Lakeview Terrace, 91342.
  • Hart High School - 24825 N. Newhall, Santa Clarita, 91321.
  • Highland High School - 39055 25th St. W., Palmdale, 93551.
  • The evacuation center at Golden Valley High School has been closed.

Evacuation centers for large animals are located:

  • Pitchess Detention Center (Jack Bones Equestrian Center) - 29320 The Old Rd., Castaic, 91384. 
  • Hansen Dam Equestrian Center - 11127 Orca Ave., Sylmar, 91342. (This is center is full. Please take animals to Pierce College.)
  • Pierce College - 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills, 91371.

Wildlife Waystation, a sanctuary for rescued exotic animals, was evacuated early Saturday. Volunteers worked, often in darkness, to remove approximately 400 animals from the Sylmar property and place them in temporary homes.

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ROAD CLOSURES

  • Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon - no entry into Sand Canyon, no access to Sand Canyon at northbound 14 Freeway
  • Sand Canyon and Lost Canyon - no traffic into Sand Canyon
  • Placerita Canyon and the 14 Freeway - no traffic into Placerita Canyon
  • Soledad Canyon Road - eastbound from the 14 Freeway
  • Agua Dulce Canyon Road - eastbound from the 14 Freeway
  • Crown Valley Road - eastbound from the 14 Freeway
  • Sand Canyon Road - east of Placerita Canyon to 12300 Little Tujunga

Check back for updates to this story.

AIR QUALITY

Air quality is generally better throughout the L.A. basin on Sunday than it was on Saturday as winds have shifted. But smoke from the fire is now headed toward desert communities, where residents are being warned about poor air quality.

An air quality advisory has been issued for parts of the San Fernando, San Gabriel, Pomona/Walnut and Santa Clarita Valleys. Everyone should avoid vigorous outdoor or indoor exertion. People with respiratory or heart disease, older adults and children should remain indoors. It remains in effect until midnight Sunday.

The air quality around the L.A. basin improved Sunday after much of the sky was tinted orange-brown and ash had fallen in many areas of greater Los Angels On Saturday.

"It's the winds. That's what fueling this fire at this time," Gustavo Medina of L.A. County Fire told KPCC. The winds were traveling between 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Todd Hall, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told KPCC a ridge of high pressure over the region was producing the hot conditions the region was experiencing the last few days. He says on Friday night, firefighter faced wind gusts of 25 to 40 mph. 

Early Saturday, smoke was moving toward the southeast. "Because of the northwest flow we're seeing across Los Angeles county," Hall said, "that will continue bringing smoke impacts into the San Fernando Valley and the San Gabriel Valley and maybe even into downtown. That may shift a little bit east as the sea breeze starts to kick in [Saturday] afternoon. We may see the smoke plume start to push a little bit east."

Due to poor air quality, the city of Pasadena closed its swimming pools and cancelled all youth soccer games scheduled at city recreation facilities Saturday.

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