Firefighters continued working Monday amid favorable weather conditions to increase containment of the 7,965-acre Saddleridge Fire in the northern San Fernando Valley, which has destroyed 17 structures and damaged another 58 since it broke out Thursday.
The fire was 43 percent contained as of Monday morning. Firefighters planned to put out remaining hot spots, isolate smoldering debris from unburned vegetation and shore up containment lines aided by lower wind speeds, increasing humidity and lower temperatures, fire officials said.
All Los Angeles Unified School District schools previously closed by the fire resumed regular classes Monday morning, though outdoor activities may be limited during the week to restrict smoke exposure. LAUSD spokeswoman Barbara Jones said maintenance crews worked over the weekend to replace air filters and clean the campuses so they would ready Monday.
Cal State Northridge also resumed full operations and class schedules, as did Los Angeles Mission, Pierce and Valley colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District.
Officials said a section of the Angeles National Forest has remained closed due to the fire, with more information available at go.usa.gov/xVzN5.
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.
There was no immediate word on what sparked the blaze.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday that Edison filed a notice with the California Public Utilities Commission, notifying the agency that it suffered an electrical malfunction that may be linked to the fire. The paper reported that the notice was similar to one filed last year by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. after the Camp Fire broke out in Butte County. PG&E equipment was later blamed for sparking the fire.
In a statement Monday, Edison said, “Out of an abundance of caution, we notified the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday, Oct. 11, that our system was impacted near the reported time of the fire.”
“SCE understands this is a difficult time for the many people that are being impacted by the Saddleridge Fire in Los Angeles County,” according to Edison. “As reported, during a period of high winds and low humidity, a fire began at approximately 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, near Yarnell Street and Saddle Ridge Road in Sylmar which quickly spread westward in the northern part of Los Angeles. The company’s top priority is the safety of customers, employees and communities, which is why we continue to enhance our wildfire mitigation efforts through grid hardening, situational awareness and enhanced operational practices.”
Various media reports Friday cited a witness claiming the first flames erupted at the base of a Southern California Edison transmission tower along Saddle Ridge Road. Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said last week 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 the cause.
The fire department issued a statement Monday insisting the cause of the fire “remains undetermined,” however, the agency confirmed the area of origin “has been identified by LAFD arson investigators as a 50-foot-by-70-foot area beneath a high voltage transmission tower.”
“There is no evidence of a homeless encampment in the immediate area,” according to the department. “In addition to LAFD personnel, there are investigators from Southern California Edison and private insurance companies at the site. Investigators continue to work around the clock in steep terrain, thoroughly examining all aspects of the scene in an attempt to determine a cause.”
The Health Hazardous Materials Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department conducted a field assessment Friday to check for possible damage to the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility near Porter Ranch after the Saddleridge fire ran through it, but the assessment revealed no damage, officials said.
The next day, HHMD accompanied Air Quality Management District inspectors to the Aliso site to measure methane levels within the facility. The inspectors found no detectable levels of methane and no danger to residents returning to homes near the facility, officials said.
A 54-year-old man identified by KTLA5 as Aiman Elsabbagh died of a heart attack Friday morning in the Porter Ranch area while trying to protect his home from the fire. Terrazas said the man was 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.
Veteran L.A. Park Ranger Capt. Alberto Torres suffered a massive fatal heart attack Friday at Ranger Headquarters at the Griffith Park Visitor Center, at 4730 Crystal Springs Drive and died the next morning at a hospital, according to authorities. He had been patrolling the parks impacted by the fire.
Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, including one eye injury, the LAFD said.
Regulators said air quality would continue to be unhealthy through at least Monday for sensitive individuals in the San Fernando, Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel Valleys. People who can smell smoke or see ash are advised to remain indoors with windows and doors closed, and to keep pets inside.
Saturday evening, Caltrans re-opened 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.
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. All evacuation orders were lifted Saturday evening and all evacuation centers were closed Sunday, fire officials said.
Roughly 1,000 firefighters from LAFD, Los Angeles County Fire Department and Angeles National Forest were on the ground battling the flames over the weekend, 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.
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