It was a busy night for Santa Clarita’s firefighters as they worked to gain the upper hand on an extensive late night apartment fire early Friday morning.
The blaze broke out on the 24900 block of Constitution Avenue near Pico Canyon Road in Stevenson Ranch shortly after 1 a.m., according to Los Angeles County Fire Dispatch Supervisor Ed Pickett.
The initial 911 call reported smoke and flames erupting from a third-floor balcony which eventually spread to the expansive building’s attic.
A standard first-alarm response was ordered, which consists of five fire engines, two ladder trucks, two battalion chiefs and a paramedic unit.
Evacuations were immediately ordered as the need for resources at the scene grew. At 1:54 a.m., an additional five engines, two ladder trucks, a hazardous materials squad and an urban search and rescue team was added as part of a second-alarm request.
Crews from as far as East Los Angeles, Calabasas and La Canada-Flintridge scrambled to reach the Santa Clarita Valley and join in the firefight as more than 35 people were taken from their homes with little time to grab any belongings.
The building’s roof suffered a partial collapse as the fiery orange glow spread throughout the attic and descended to the third floor.
At 2:08 a.m., a third-alarm was requested. Five more engines, two trucks and an additional battalion chief were added to the battle, Pickett explained.
A total of 20 units were impacted by the late night blaze, prompting units at the scene to set up an emergency shelter as they prepared for the American Red Cross’ resources.
As of 5:02 a.m., the fire was not extinguished and no injuries were reported, Pickett said.
By daybreak, the rising sun revealed the powerful blaze’s scars. The chirping birds were muffled by the sounds of fire engines vacating the premises for the long journey home.
But the smell of charred wood, stucco and belongings continued to linger.
Many windows were broken throughout the grueling firefight as emergency crews worked to ventilate the building and evacuate much of the smoke.
Visible through the shards of fragmented glass was no longer a curtain set or a bedroom – it was a crisp blue sky.
Investigators milled around, poking their heads into the burn zone and occasionally discussed some details about the fire.
Though the cause had not been determined as of 9 a.m., clues into what happened as flames tore through the apartment building and some of the obstacles crews faced began to flush out.
“When we were first attacking the fire, crews went in with hose line,” Battalion Chief Mark Whaling said.
Fortunately, commanders at the scene made a judgement call to have the firefighters evacuate.
“When the fire spread through the attic, the roof collapsed,” Whaling said.
The battalion No. 4 fire chief from La Canada-Flintridge shed more light on the need for significant manpower from units across the county.
“These were the same firefighters that were fighting the brush fires all day,” Whaling said. ” They were on multiple fires for 12 to 18 hours before this fire broke out.”
A decision was made to augment the amount of units at the scene because of the fire’s scale and to prevent firefighters from overextending themselves.
The battle began on the ground but was won in the air – and with a cost. Twenty units in the building were damaged either by fire, smoke or water, Whaling said.
By morning, 39 people could not go home. A few families no longer had much of a home to return to.
The county’s building inspectors plan to examine the damaged structure for integrity, but as of 9 a.m., the building was ordered to not be occupied, Whaling said.
“Thankfully the Red Cross has come out and they’re going to open up a shelter and give these people a place to stay until they can have a chance to relocate,” Whaling explained.
The cause of the blaze has yet to be identified and is still under investigation.