The view from a Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter over Soledad Canyon. Courtesy LACFD Air Operations
The view from a Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter over Soledad Canyon. Courtesy LACFD Air Operations

The fast-moving Sand Fire continued raging today through drought-ravaged terrain in the Santa Clarita area, leaving more than 33,000 acres scorched, destroying at least 18 homes and possibly claiming a life, but evacuation orders for thousands of residents were lifted.

About 10,000 homes — occupied by an estimated 20,000 residents — have been evacuated since the fire broke out on Friday afternoon near Sand Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, along the northbound Antelope Valley (14) Freeway, sheriff’s Capt. Roosevelt Johnson said.

Late this afternoon, however, fire officials announced that almost all evacuation orders were being lifted as of 7 p.m. Evacuation orders will remain in effect for residents of Placerita Canyon Road from Running Horse Lane to Pacy Street, and along Little Tujunga Road from the Wildlife Waystation to Sand Canyon Road and Placerita Canyon Road.

Forest Service officials said evacuation orders will also remain in place on Agua Dulce Canyon Road from Soledad Canyon Road to about a quarter- mile south of the 14 Freeway, and along Soledad Canyon Road for one mile on either side of Agua Dulce Canyon Road.

It was not immediately clear how many homes will remain evacuated.

Only residents will be allowed back into the areas where evacuations are being lifted, so people will be asked to show identification.

Despite the lifting of the evacuation orders, the fire — which has burned 33,117 acres, or about 51 square miles — was still listed as only 10 percent contained.

At 7:20 p.m. Saturday, the badly burned body of an unidentified man was found in a car parked in the driveway of a house in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road. Sheriff’s officials said the death was still under investigation, and it was not yet determined if the person was killed by the fire.

Los Angeles County fire Chief Daryl Osby this morning lamented the unwillingness of some residents to follow evacuation orders, saying some fire crews encountered residents while heading into the fire zone.

“They were surprised to see citizens there,” Osby said. “The citizens were there trying to evacuate, trying to get animals out. At the same time they (firefighters) are trying to go in and protect homes, they felt that they lost additional structures because they had to stop what they were doing to help citizens evacuate.”

According to the California Highway Patrol, some law enforcement personnel standing guard at closed streets were nearly run over by people driving carelessly as they tried to get back to their homes. Fire and law enforcement officials repeatedly urged residents to evacuate when ordered, or even earlier.

“If you see smoke and fire coming in your direction, don’t wait for a police officer or a deputy or a firefighter to say go,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief John Tripp said.

Tripp said the fire was gobbling up roughly 10,000 acres a day, noting that one acre is roughly the size of a football field.

Officials also warned people not to fly drones in the fire zone, noting that a couple of “incursions” of drones into the fire zone occurred on Sunday — forcing a halt to aerial firefighting efforts until the air space was cleared.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said a SuperScooper aircraft that the county leases from Canada will not be available until August. He said the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will ratify a local state of emergency declaration due to the fire. He said he will also introduce a motion calling for a report from the county fire department on its aerial resources — and whether the county needs to either purchase its own SuperScooper aircraft or arrange to lease one year-round. Officials said two firefighters assigned to battle the flames lost their homes in the blaze, along with a third who lost his home while battling a brush fire at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

Evacuation centers were established at Highland High School at 39055 25th Street West in Palmdale; at Hart High School at 24825 Newhall Ave. in Santa Clarita; and at Lakeview Terrace Recreation Center at 11075 Foothill Drive in Sylmar. It was unclear if all of them would remain open given the lifting of most evacuation orders.

Community members showed up Saturday at the Wildlife WayStation in Sylmar to help evacuate some 400 exotic animals from the 160-acre sanctuary at 14831 Little Tujunga Canyon Road. The animals were taken to warehouses to wait out the fire, including the hangar at Van Nuys Airport.

The fire destroyed a western town set on the Sable Ranch, a well-known and well-used filming location.

The blaze was fueled by triple-digit temperatures along with gusty winds and extremely dry vegetation — thanks to the region’s five-year drought — that hasn’t burned in years. Fire officials said that even vegetation in the area that isn’t dead is extremely dry, helping to fuel the “freight-train” speed of the flames.

Residents reported smoke-filled air and falling ash in many parts of the greater Los Angeles area, with smoke advisories in the area in effect through midnight Monday.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory, noting that people in affected areas are susceptible to direct smoke impact and unhealthy air quality. Officials recommended that people stay indoors and avoid using swamp coolers and wood-burning appliances.

On Sunday, the fire forced the closure of all lanes of the northbound Antelope (14) Freeway from the Golden State (5) Freeway to Santiago Canyon and the southbound 14 Freeway from Avenue N to Soledad Canyon for a time.

The Sand Canyon exit of the northbound 14 Freeway remains closed. There is no entry into Sand Canyon from Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon roads; no access to Sand Canyon, Soledad Canyon Road and Placerita Canyon, Agua Dulce Canyon Road or Crown Valley Road from the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway; and Sand Canyon Road was shut down east of Placerita Canyon to 12300 Little Tujunga Canyon Road.

Metrolink announced there would be no service to and from the Vincent Grade/Acton, Palmdale or Lancaster stations. Train service will operate between Via Princessa and Los Angeles only, Metrolink officials said. There will be no bus bridges between the Palmdale and Lancaster stations.

–City News Service

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