July 2016 – CALIFORNIA – The brush fire raging in the rugged mountains in the Santa Clarita Valley grew to more than 22,000 acres overnight as firefighters struggle to gain control of the wildfire amid a brutal heat wave. The Sand fire roared primarily through uninhabited areas near the 14 Freeway much of Saturday, fueled by high winds and hillsides carpeted with tinder-like chaparral. The blaze, first reported at 2 p.m. Friday, grew to nearly 5,500 acres by Saturday morning, then exploded by late evening as the winds began to shift, pushing flames closer to homes in a Santa Clarita neighborhood that abuts the Angeles National Forest, fire officials said.
Mandatory evacuations were still in place Sunday for about 1,500 residents in parts of Sand and Placerita canyons, as well as for others along Little Tujunga Canyon road. Earlier, fire officials said that some Sand Canyon residents would be allowed to return home at 1 p.m. but that decision was later rescinded as winds began to shift again. New evacuation orders were issued for residents who live along Agua Dulce, Crown Valley and Soledad Canyon roads and all of Bootlegger Canyon. So far, 18 structures have been destroyed and another damaged in the Bear Divide and Sand Canyon areas, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. One fatality has been reported, but it is not yet clear if it is fire-related.
Assisted by fixed-wing aircraft and water-dropping helicopters, more than 1,600 firefighters continue to battle to get ahead of the blaze. But the fire remains only 10% contained. Decades without a major fire and years of drought left the valley primed for a fast-moving fire that was fueled by “excessive heat, low humidity, extreme dry fuels that have not burned for several decades,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said during a news conference Saturday. “Five years ago, if we had a similar fire, we would have probably caught [it] at the ridge,” Los Angeles County Fire Department chief Daryl L. Osby said during the news conference.
A man’s body was found inside a car on Iron Canyon Road in the fire zone Saturday evening. Sheriff’s homicide detectives are investigating the death. National Weather Service meteorologist Robbie Munroe said Sunday is expected to bring two forms of respite: cooler temperatures and more moisture. While Saturday’s temperatures sweltered into the 100s in the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Santa Clarita valleys — peaking at 108 degrees near the fire — Munroe said conditions would cool off by about 10 degrees Sunday, returning to a more typical July heat.
“Yesterday was the last day of the heat wave,” he said, adding that humidity percentages near the fire would hover in the teens Sunday but get as high as 40% by the evening. As offshore winds pick up Sunday afternoon, Munroe said, the fire will likely burn to the northeast. “It will be gusty at times,” he said, “which will not be helpful for firefighters.” Fire officials said wind gusts could reach up 20 mph. At a Denny’s in the Sand Canyon area early Sunday, residents swapped stories about the blaze. A woman said her husband had seen a burned horse carcass during his morning walk, and a man described the scene as looking like Armageddon. –L.A. Times