Firefighters made the most of favorable weather conditions as they continued to battle the 7,965-acre Saddleridge Fire in the Northern San Fernando Valley Monday.
The blaze, which destroyed 23 structures and damaged 17 since it broke out Thursday, was 42 percent contained. 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 were scheduled to resume 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 will also resume full operations and class schedules, spokesman Carmen Ramos Chandler said. So, too, will Los Angeles Mission, Pierce and Valley colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District, said LACCD spokesman William Boyer.
The blaze began about 9 p.m. Thursday in the areas of Sylmar, Granada Hills and Porter Ranch. Of the 23 structures destroyed, 17 were single-family residences, two were multi-family residences, one was a commercial property and two were minor structures. Eleven structures were damaged, including nine homes, one multi-family residence and one minor structure, fire officials said.
The Health Hazardous Materials Division (HHMD) of the Los Angeles County Fire Department conducted a field assessment Friday to check for possible damage to the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility 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. Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said Elsabbagh 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.
There was no immediate word on what sparked 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 the cause.