All roadways were reopened and all evacuees of the nearly 8,000-acre Saddleridge Fire were allowed to return to their homes Saturday, as firefighters have the Northern San Fernando Valley brush fire 33% contained, though it continues to burn and fill the air with smoke, authorities said.
As of 11 p.m. Saturday, the blaze had damaged or destroyed 31 structures, forced about 100,000 people temporarily from their homes and created dangerously unhealthy air quality over a huge chunk of the Southland, which continues to pose concerns. It was 33% contained and still burning in the areas of Sylmar, Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, according to fire officials.
Ralph Terrazas, chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department, said 13 structures were destroyed, while the rest suffered varying degrees of damage.
Also as of 11 p.m., Caltrans reported the reopening of the southbound Golden State Freeway truck route, the southbound Antelope Valley Freeway to the southbound Golden State Freeway truck route and the northbound Golden State Freeway to the northbound Antelope Valley Freeway truck route.
Humidity levels increased to 20-25% by Saturday night and the winds died down to 3-5 miles per hour, National Weather Service Meteorologist Kristen Stewart said. A red flag warning expired at 6 p.m., she said.
An unhealthful smoke advisory was issued by the South Coast Air Quality Management District through at least Sunday night for the entire San Fernando Valley, areas west of central Los Angeles, and coastal areas west of the 110 Freeway. People who can smell smoke or see ash are advised to remain indoors with windows and doors closed, and avoid vigorous physical activity. Officials said that winds were expected to push the smoke east into Pasadena.
The man who died of a heart attack Friday morning in the Porter Ranch area while trying to protect his home from the fire was 54-year-old Aiman Elsabbagh, according to KTLA News. Terrazas said Elsabbagh was actually speaking to firefighters when he went into cardiac arrest, and he died at a hospital. According to reports from the scene, the father of two had been dousing the flames with his garden hose when he had the heart attack.
So far, only one firefighter has been injured — it was a minor eye injury, according to the LAFD.
The massive fire had prompted a mandatory evacuation order for all residents of Porter Ranch north of the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway from Reseda Boulevard to DeSoto Avenue, residents of Granada Hills from Balboa Boulevard and north of Sesnon Boulevard to the Ventura County border, and the Oakridge Estates community north of the Foothill Freeway in Sylmar. In all, it affected roughly 23,000 homes — equating to about 100,000 people, authorities said.
Roughly 1,000 firefighters from LAFD, Los Angeles County Fire Department and Angeles National Forest were on the ground battling the flames, aided by water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropping fire retardant.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who cut short a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, due to the fire, and county Board of Supervisors chair Janice Hahn both signed local emergency declarations.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Riverside counties. The declarations free up local and state resources to aid in the firefighting effort.
There was no immediate word on what sparked the blaze. Terrazas noted that city officials had been working with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to clear homeless people out of fire-prone areas during the red-flag conditions that began Thursday, but he said he did not know whether there were any encampments near the flashpoint of the blaze.
Various media reports cited a witness claiming the first flames erupted at the base of a Southern California Edison transmission tower along Saddle Ridge Road. Terrazas said he was aware of the reports “of a witness seeing fire fall from a transmission tower,” but there still had not been any determination of what caused the fire.
The fire was first reported just after 9 p.m. Thursday off the westbound Foothill (210) Freeway near Yarnell Street and Saddle Ridge Road in Sylmar, and quickly spread due to wind-blown embers that jumped the Golden State (5) Freeway about 11:20 p.m., spreading the flames into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch.