PORTER RANCH — A 7,552-acre brush fire continued to burn in the northern San Fernando Valley on Saturday after damaging or destroying 31 structures, forcing about 100,000 people from their homes and creating dangerously unhealthy air quality over a huge chunk of the Southland.
The Saddleridge fire, which officials said was 19% contained as of Saturday morning, burned in the areas of Sylmar, Granada Hills and Porter Ranch.
Ralph Terrazas, chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department, said 13 structures were destroyed, while the rest suffered varying degrees of damage.
One person, 54-year-old Aiman Elsabbagh, died of a heart attack Friday morning in the Porter Ranch area, according to the LAFD. Terrazas said the man was actually speaking to firefighters when he went into cardiac arrest, and he died at a hospital. According to reports from the scene, the man had been working to protect his home from the blaze.
One firefighter suffered a minor eye injury, according to the LAFD.
Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said the bulk of the fire at the city’s edge had moved away from homes and into rugged hillsides and canyons where firefighters were making steady progress slowing its advance. Television footage showed plumes of smoke rising from the area but no walls of towering flame, as a water-dropping helicopter moved in to dump another cascade on the blaze.
“The bulk of the fire has moved toward wildland,” Humphrey said.
Firefighters worked under sunny skies, but air quality was poor as smoke dispersed over much of greater Los Angeles. Air quality officials urged people to limit outdoor activities.
The forecast called for low humidity — in the 10% range — with light wind and an occasional gust up to 15 mph.
Fire danger remained high for much of Southern California, with warnings in place for large swaths of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties west of Los Angeles.
An unhealthful smoke advisory was issued by the South Coast Air Quality Management District through at least this morning for the entire San Fernando Valley, areas west of central Los Angeles, and coastal areas west of Interstate 110. 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 massive fire prompted a mandatory evacuation order for all residents of Porter Ranch north of the Ronald Reagan 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.
The evacuation orders affected roughly 23,000 homes — equating to about 100,000 people, authorities said.
However, as of Saturday afternoon, evacuation orders had been lifted for all areas.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles police were arranging escorts for people in other areas to briefly return to their homes for five minutes to collect important documents, medications or other needed items.
Any resident who chose to stay in the evacuation zone would be warned against doing so, according to LAPD Chief Michel Moore.
“If individuals refuse to leave, they’ll be admonished, we’ll body-worn camera record them, we will get their next of kin and their information, and they’ll be left there over our objections,” Moore told reporters Friday evening.
About 330 juveniles and staff from the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar were evacuated Friday morning. The Sylmar Juvenile Courthouse at the same location was also closed. Court officials said all cases on calendar Friday were postponed, except those with “statutory deadlines,” which were being heard at the Eastlake Juvenile Courthouse.
The juveniles were evacuated to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.
“Visiting of youth who are assigned to Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall and currently being housed at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall due to the (Saddleridge fire) will resume on Sunday, October 13,” the department tweeted late Friday night.
And according to Caltrans, the following freeways are now open in the Saddleridge fire area:
• Southbound Antelope Valley Freeway.
• Eastbound Ronald Reagan Freeway.
• Northbound Interstate 405.
• Northbound and southbound Interstate 5.
• Northbound Interstate 5 connector to the northbound Antelope Valley Freeway.
• Eastbound Interstate 210 at Interstate 5.
• Westbound Foothill Freeway at the Ronald Reagan Freeway.
• Northbound Golden State Freeway truck route.
The southbound Interstate 5 truck route, the southbound Antelope Valley Freeway to the southbound Interstate 5 truck route and the northbound Interstate 5 to the northbound Antelope Valley Freeway truck route all remained closed.
Interstate 5 was shut down for much of the day Friday, choking traffic until finally reopening.
The Los Angeles Community College District announced that all three of its campuses — Mission College, Valley College and Pierce College — would remain closed for instruction through at least Saturday.
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 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.
The cause of the Los Angeles blaze wasn’t immediately known, though arson investigators said a witness reported seeing sparks or flames coming from a power line near where the fire is believed to have started, said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.
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 westbound Interstate 210 near Yarnell Street and Saddle Ridge Road in Sylmar, and quickly spread due to wind-blown embers that jumped Interstate 5 about 11:20 p.m., spreading the flames into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch.
By Friday afternoon, fire officials said the flames were primarily advancing on the fire’s northern flank.