Rebuilding continues months after fire

Members of a hand crew from Chula Vista put water on a Sand fire flare-up along Placerita Canyon road on July 26. Signal photo by Dan Watson

The Sand Fire took everything from Donna Fink.  It burned down her home, killed three of her animals and stole her “soul mate” Bob Bresnick from her life forever.

Five months after this summer’s 11-day fire, Fink’s granddaughter, Kaylee Kitabayashi, is still trying to find her a home.

Sand Canyon resident Jan Sanborn also lost everything in the Sand Fire. Her road to rebuild has proved slow and steady, with an outpouring of love and support from friends and the people of SCV who have rallied around her and given her more than $100,000 to rebuild.

David Stearns, who labored over several years to build Santa Clarita Valley’s annual LA SummerFest series into an SCV tradition, saw the Sand Fire strip away all those efforts – not by flame or smoke – but by a diminished air quality that kept patrons away.

“We had to cancel a number of events because of the air quality in the city,” Stearns told The Signal two weeks ago as he labored – still – to revive the festival.

“The Sand Fire greatly affected the turnout for the other events throughout the summer,” he said. “But we pushed through and we are looking forward to, and already planning for next year’s LA SummerFest.”

Derek Hunt who frantically worked to stave off the threatening Sand Fire this past summer, as former Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar worked with him shoulder-to-shoulder to save his Sable Ranch, is still busy dealing with the destruction caused five months ago.

“We’re actually prepping for the rain,” Hunt said earlier this month, pausing in his efforts to sandbag his ranch to prevent mud and debris flows.

“We’re sand-bagging, we’re building, we’re doing everything we can in preparation of the rain,” he said. “We’re going the whole nine yards.”

Fast-moving fire

The Sand Fire, described by fire officials as an incredibly fast-moving fire, began in the early afternoon of Friday, July 22, off of Highway 14 just northeast of Sand Canyon Road.

It burned at least 41,432 acres, killed one Sand Canyon resident, destroyed 19 homes, and prompted the evacuation of several SCV neighborhoods. According to the Angeles National Forest Fire Management,  battling the fire involved 30 engines, 19 hand crews, 3 helicopters, 7 water tenders, 11 dozers, and 783 personnel.

It wasn’t until Nov. 7, 2016, at 6 a.m. that the fire was officially declared “out,” Seneca Smith, spokeswoman for the US Forest Service, told The Signal this month.

During the last week of July, the campus of Hart High School became an emergency center for displaced people to find accommodations through the Red Cross, for displaced animals to find county caregivers and for those experiencing property loss to find insurance companies in trailers in the school parking lot.

“We received around 1,150 claims from the Sand Fire,” Carrie Bonney, spokeswoman for Farmers Insurance, said.

And, of all the animals displaced by the Sand Fire, all but three were returned to their owners, Christopher Kim, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control said.

“There were 800 animals, which included 393 horses, that were displaced as a result of the Sand Fire,” he said.

Changed earth

What’s not listed in the US Forest Service fire summary are the lingering effects.

More than 41,000 acres of burn area has created an ongoing threat for affected property owners.  Every time if rains, the threat of mud or debris flows threatens to bring with it further pain and suffering. Last weekend’s rainstorm brought some mud flow to the area but public works officials had in recent weeks built rail and timber structures in the area that helped stop a larger flow.

Scott Sukup of the National Weather Service office based in Oxnard, told The Signal that flooding, mud slides and debris flows are possibilities with each approaching storm.

Areas burnt by wildfires leave the soil “rootless,” allowing water to run off of it or move the soil on hillsides.

“When the vegetation dies you get a loss of the root system” he said. “That makes the water harder to infiltrate the soil and it runs off faster.  The faster moving water picks up rocks and branches and creates debris flows.”

SCV brush fires

As if the Sand Fire wasn’t destructive enough, similar fires in recent months and years have turned the SCV into a patchwork of blackened burn areas denuded of trees and shrubs.

– Sage Fire: Broke out near Stevenson Ranch  on July 9; by July 16 it had burned over 2,000 acres and was 100 percent contained.

– Calgrove Fire: Started June 24, 2015, in an area near the southbound lanes of Interstate 5, north of Calgrove Boulevard and burned for two days.  It destroyed 415 acres.

– Powerhouse Fire:  Hit an area north of the SCV from May 30 to June 10, in 2013.  It burned more than 30,000 acres and destroyed 53 structures.

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