A stubborn, wind-driven brush fire that raged through the hills above Sylmar and threatened thousands of homes was holding at just more than 11,000 acres burned Wednesday, but crews were bracing for violent gusts expected to return Wednesday evening.
The blaze, which broke out at 3:42 a.m. Tuesday in the area of Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads in the Kagel Canyon area, was estimated at 11,377 acres by late afternoon Wednesday. More than 1,100 firefighters and other personnel were deployed against the fire, which was 5 percent contained.
Three firefighters were injured Tuesday, and were hospitalized in stable condition.
At least 30 homes were destroyed, about 20 of them in the Little Tujunga, Kagel Canyon and Lopez Canyon areas. The other 10 homes were within Los Angeles city limits, according to Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Sylmar resident Virginia Padilla, whose family owns a ranch in Sylmar, told reporters the fire killed at least 30 of the ranch’s horses. Padilla said she and her family were able to get out of her home just in time but were not able to take their horses with them as they had to evacuate immediately when they were awakened Tuesday morning.
Evacuation orders first issued Tuesday were affecting about 110,000 households, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said evacuated residents would not be allowed to return home for another night.
“We realize what an inconvenience this is and how traumatic this is to so many people, but we’ve watched fires in Northern California, we’ve seen through experience it’s much better to err on the side of safety,” Garcetti said at an afternoon news briefing. “And while the wind is not as strong at this moment as we have had in some of the briefings before and certainly yesterday, it is an unpredictable wind and we do expect extreme wind starting at 10 o’clock today.”
All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and some on the west side of Los Angeles — a total of 265 district schools and affiliated charter schools — will be closed on Thursday and Friday, district officials said. A full list of closed schools was available at www.lausd.net.
All Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District campuses will also remain closed Thursday.
An estimated 2,500 structures were threatened by the Creek Fire at one point, according to the U.S. Forest Service, which was fighting the blaze in a unified command with the Los Angeles city and county fire departments.
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas warned that the battle was likely to continue until at least Friday.
While there was a lull in the winds Wednesday, allowing crews to work on containment lines around the various fires, a “significant” wind event is expected Wednesday night and into Thursday, with hurricane-force winds possible, Terrazas said.
The LAFD’s “brush burning index” that rates the fire danger was at 296 — “the highest number I’ve ever seen in my career,” according to Terrazas. He said the usual threshold for extreme fire conditions is 165.
“Tonight may be the worst night of all,” Terrazas said.
The LAPD was placed on a citywide tactical alert, which allows commanders maximum flexibility in deploying resources.
As the fire burned on Tuesday, the Foothill (210) Freeway was closed in both directions between the Golden State (5) Freeway and the Glendale (2) Freeway, but the freeway had been reopened by Wednesday afternoon, according to the California Highway Patrol.
As the fire expanded and jumped south of the Foothill Freeway on Tuesday, so did the mandatory evacuation area. Evacuations were initially ordered in the area north of the Foothill Freeway from Glenoaks Boulevard on the west to the border with La Crescenta on the east.
But by early Tuesday afternoon, the eastern boundary of the evacuation area had been expanded to the Haynes Canyon area. And an area south of the Foothill Freeway was ordered evacuated in Shadow Hills between Sunland Boulevard to the south, Wentworth Street to the north and Tuxford Street to the west, officials said.
A dozen evacuation centers were opened throughout the San Fernando Valley, and all were accepting evacuees, including those with pets.
The fire also forced a mass evacuation of large animals, primarily horses but also others such as alpacas.
Many of the animals were being housed at Pierce College and the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, which were at capacity Wednesday afternoon and not accepting additional animals.
Horses and other large animals can be brought to the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center at 11127 Orcas Ave. in Sylmar and the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds at 2551 W. Avenue H, in Lancaster.
Dogs, cats and small pets can be brought to these locations:
— Sylmar Recreation Center, 13109 Borden Avenue, in Sylmar;
— West Valley Animal Shelter, 20655 Plummer St., Los Angeles; and
— East Valley Animal Shelter, 14409 Vanowen St., Los Angeles.
Residents were urged to heed evacuation orders and to prepare well in advance of commands to leave home.
“Pack a go bag,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
He suggested residents take photo IDs, medications, food and water — enough for a couple of days — and important documents like birth certificates, passports and licenses.
He said 70 mph winds were forecast for Wednesday night.
“Please take this serious,” he said. “Pack a bag, be ready to go, have your cell phone charged and please, heed the warning when we ask you to leave an area.”
–City News Service
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