Flames along a ridge in the Santa Clarita area. Courtesy U.S. Forest Service
Flames along a ridge in the Santa Clarita area. Courtesy U.S. Forest Service

Fire crews made progress against the deadly Sand Fire in the Santa Clarita area Tuesday, aided slightly by improving weather conditions and lighter vegetation in some areas that offered hope of increased containment of the blaze.

More than 3,000 firefighters were on the lines working to knock down the blaze, which began Friday afternoon near Sand Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, along the northbound Antelope Valley (14) Freeway.

As of this evening, the fire had scorched 37,701 acres and was 25 percent contained.

The coroner’s office, meanwhile, identified a man whose burned body was found in a car in the driveway of a house in the burn area — and who apparently refused orders to evacuate the area.

The body of Robert Bresnick, 67, was discovered at 7:20 p.m. Saturday in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road, said coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

“Evidently, he did not want to evacuate,” Winter said. An autopsy was pending to determine the cause of the man’s death, which was being classified as an accident.

Winter said Bresnick, whose home town was not known, was visiting a friend at the location, and had been advised by authorities to leave. The friend left, but Bresnick did not, Winter said.

The fire has destroyed 18 homes, and two firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the flames, according to Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby. The fire destroyed a western town set on the Sable Ranch, a well-known and well-used filming location.

Although an estimated 20,000 people were evacuated as the fire raged, most evacuation orders were lifted at 7 p.m. Monday. The orders remain in effect for residents of:

— Placerita Canyon Road from Running Horse Lane to Pacy Street;

— Little Tujunga Road from the Wildlife Waystation to Sand Canyon Road and Placerita Canyon Road;

— Agua Dulce Canyon Road from Soledad Canyon Road to about a quarter- mile south of the Antelope Valley Freeway; and

— Soledad Canyon Road for one mile on either side of Agua Dulce Canyon Road.

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

Osby had earlier 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.

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.

Osby, appearing before the county Board of Supervisors, said fire crews have managed to save “thousands of structures,” and called Monday “a good day” in terms of the firefight.

Osby said crews are still seeing “erratic fire behavior” and winds, but he said the vegetation fueling the fire was lighter as the blaze moved toward the Agua Dulce area, making it easier for crews to work with hand tools in the area and extend containment lines.

“Our next report tomorrow should be even better in terms of containment,” Osby said.

The Board of Supervisors today ratified a local emergency declaration that was issued by the county on Monday. The declaration is the first step in acquiring state funding to help fire-recovery efforts, and hours later, acting Gov. Tom Torlakson officially declared a state of emergency to free up state resources.

Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, is acting governor while Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials are attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The Board of Supervisors also called for a report on the county’s aerial fire-fighting fleet, including a discussion on whether it should purchase or secure a year-round lease on additional aircraft, including possibly a SuperScooper.

The county leases SuperScooper aircraft from Canada during fire season, but they are not expected to arrive in the area until September. Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said the LACFD will receive an S-64F Helitanker HT-731 on Monday, two weeks earlier than expected.

Three firefighters lost their homes in the fire. Two of them were initially battling the Sand Fire, and one lost his home while he was in San Diego County battling a blaze at Camp Pendleton.

With most evacuations lifted, an evacuation center at the Lakeview Terrace Recreation Center at 11075 Foothill Drive in Sylmar was closed. Two others — at Highland High School at 39055 25th Street West in Palmdale and at Hart High School at 24825 Newhall Ave. in Santa Clarita — would remain open overnight, the Red Cross announced.

The blaze was being fueled by triple-digit temperatures along with gusty winds and vegetation left dry thanks to the region’s five-year drought. Officials said some areas affected have not burned in decades, leaving it covered with dry chaparral that pushed the fire forward like a freight train.

The Escondido Canyon Road and Soledad Canyon Road exits of the northbound Antelope Valley Freeway are closed, as are the Crown Valley Road exits of the northbound and southbound Antelope Valley Freeway.

No access was available into Sand Canyon from Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon roads; and no access was open to Sand Canyon, Soledad Canyon Road and Placerita Canyon, Agua Dulce Canyon Road or Crown Valley Road from the Antelope Valley Freeway. Sand Canyon Road was shut down east of Placerita Canyon to 12300 Little Tujunga Canyon Road.

Metrolink announced there would be no service at least one more day to and from the Vincent Grade/Acton, Palmdale or Lancaster stations. Train service was operating between Via Princessa and downtown Los Angeles only, Metrolink officials said. There will be no bus bridges between the Palmdale and Lancaster stations.

Residents saw smoke-filled air and falling ash over the weekend in many parts of northern and central Los Angeles County. Smoke was expected to drift north or northeast today, with the greatest impact seen in Acton and the Antelope Valley, although a shift in winds could change that.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District extended a smoke advisory until midnight Wednesday for portions of the Santa Clarita Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains. Residents in those areas are advised to stay indoors, and to avoid using swamp coolers or wood-burning appliances.

—City News Service

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