A fire fighting aircraft makes a retardant drop as fire fighters continue to battle the so-called Sand Fire in the Angeles National Forest. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
A fire fighting aircraft makes a retardant drop as fire fighters continue to battle the so-called Sand Fire in the Angeles National Forest. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

The one fatality in the massive Santa Clarita Sand Fire was a 67-year-old man trying to ready his car for a failed escape from the flames as his companion gathered the couple’s pets.

The companion, a 73-year-old woman, was narrowly rescued by firefighters, but Robert Bresnick wasn’t so lucky. His charred body was found Saturday in his burned-out car in a driveway after the blaze roared through the area.

That picture of the tragedy emerged Thursday as the Los Angeles Times quoted Los Angeles County County Sheriff’s Lt. Joe Mendoza.

“Their initial plan was that they were going to load up in the car and come down the hill,” Mendoza said. “However, that fire overtook that place in minutes …”

“It was just too dangerous up there.”

Firefighters were at the scene just before the tragedy, and had yelled to Bresnick to leave the area. He yelled something back, but they could not hear him amid the roar of the fire. He apparently then did try to leave, Mendoza said.

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

Following an autopsy, the cause of death was listed as the “consequences of extensive thermal burns,” and the death was classified as an accident, Winter said.

With most evacuated residents now back home, fire crews worked Thursday to extend their slow progress against the deadly Sand Fire, which has charred more than 38,000 acres in the Santa Clarita area and was 65 percent contained.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters were on the lines working to knock down the blaze, which broke out Friday afternoon near Sand Canyon Road in Santa Clarita along the northbound Antelope Valley (14) Freeway. Relative humidity in the area was 30 to 35 percent overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

As of Wednesday night, the fire had scorched 38,346 acres and was 40 percent contained, fire officials said.

Eighteen homes were destroyed, along with a western town set on the Sable Ranch, a well-known filming location; one structure was damaged; two firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the flames, and one man was killed after apparently refusing an order to evacuate.

An estimated 20,000 people were evacuated as the fire raged, but most evacuation orders were lifted at 7 p.m. Monday. The orders remain in effect for residents of Little Tujunga Road from the Wildlife Waystation to Sand Canyon Road and Placerita Canyon Road, according to officials at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

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

The Escondido and Soledad Canyon Road exits of the northbound Antelope Valley Freeway remained closed today.

Sand Canyon Road was closed south of Placerita Canyon Road. Agua Dulce Canyon Road was closed to all nonresidents at the 14 Freeway, and closed to everyone at Soledad Canyon Road. Little Tujunga Canyon Road was closed north of the Wildlife Waystation. In Acton, Soledad Canyon Road was closed at Bootlegger Road.

Members of the public can follow the latest announcements about the fire online at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4878/.

Metrolink says full service on the Antelope Valley line will resume today. Fire conditions adjacent to the railroad tracks in Santa Clarita had prompted the agency to suspend service.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District extended a smoke advisory until midnight today in portions of the Santa Clarita Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains. Air quality could reach unhealthy levels in areas where there’s smoke, the agency said. Residents in those areas are advised to stay indoors and avoid using swamp coolers or wood-burning appliances.

Sheriff’s officials, meanwhile, warned people not to fly drones in the fire zone, noting drone incursions occurred over the weekend, interrupting aerial firefighting efforts.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby, appearing before the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, said fire crews have managed  to save “thousands of structures.”

Osby said crews are still seeing “erratic fire behavior” amid stiff 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 extend containment lines.

The Board of Supervisors ratified a local emergency declaration issued by the county on Monday. The declaration is the first step in acquiring state funding to help fire-recovery efforts. Hours after the board’s vote on Tuesday, 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 firefighting 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 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 — remained open, according to the the Red Cross.

The blaze has been fueled by triple-digit temperatures along with gusty winds and vegetation left dry by the region’s five-year drought. Officials said some areas affected have not burned in decades, leaving terrain covered with dry chaparral.

—City News Service

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