Fire crews worked Tuesday to extend containment lines around the 8,391-acre Saddleridge Fire in the northern San Fernando Valley ahead of an anticipated return of offshore winds later this week.
As of Tuesday evening, the fire was 46% contained, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The blaze, which erupted Thursday night in the Sylmar area, has destroyed 19 structures and damaged another 88.
On Monday, Southern California Gas Co. crews alerted firefighters about a flames burning in a roughly 4-foot-by-4-foot patch of soil on the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility property in Porter Ranch, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
“The small fire does not pose a risk to public safety and there are no impacts to SoCalGas operations at the facility,” according to the LAFD. “SoCalGas, Fire Departments and Public Health are investigating.”
That fire was extinguished on Tuesday afternoon, according to SoCalGas, but it was still a mystery what was feeding the flames.
“At this time, the fire does not appear to have been fueled by natural gas,” according to SoCalGas.
Southern California Gas Co. officials said they were working with fire officials to determine the source of the fire, but stressed there was no damage to any equipment at the storage facility and no sign of any leaks. The small fire did not “pose a risk to public safety and there are no impacts to SoCalGas operations at the facility,” according to the Gas Co.
The Aliso Canyon facility was the site of a massive 2015-16 leak that grew to the largest of its type in U.S. history. Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, issued a statement Tuesday calling for transparency in the investigation into the small fire.
“Any mystery at Aliso Canyon, especially one involving a fire, is unacceptable given the history of the blowout and the legacy of distrust that follows it,” Stern said.
Videos of what appeared to be fires within the sewer system at the Porter Ranch Town Center alarmed some residents who thought the flames might be connected to the extinguished Aliso Canyon flame. Investigators believe there is no connection and have not witnessed any active underground fire threats in the area, according to the LAFD’s Nicholas Prange.
Meanwhile, all Los Angeles Unified School District schools previously closed by the fire resumed regular classes Monday morning.
However, some parents and teachers criticized the move, saying that despite claims the campuses were thoroughly cleaned, many desks and classrooms were still covered in ash and soot. Many teachers and students in the affected area donned facemasks, and some teachers moved their classes outside, fearing conditions inside classrooms were actually worse.
LAUSD officials said additional cleaning was ordered at affected campuses and ventilation system filters were replaced.
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.
The cause of the fire remained undetermined, but the point of origin was identified by LAFD arson investigators as a 50-foot-by-70-foot area beneath a high voltage transmission tower, officials said.
“There is no evidence of a homeless encampment in the immediate area,” according to the LAFD. “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 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 newspaper 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.
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. LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the man was speaking to firefighters when he went into cardiac arrest, and he died at a hospital.
Veteran Los Angeles 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 who had an eye injury, the LAFD said.
A local assistance center, located at the Sylmar Recreation Center, 13109 Borden Ave., will open Thursday for residents affected by the Saddle Ridge fire as a “one-stop-shop with critical government services and information for residents who have been impacted by the fires,” the LAFD said.
The center will be open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Oct. 26.
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