Fierce Santa Ana winds that blasted through the Santa Clarita Valley Thursday and Friday whipped the Saddleridge fire into a disaster for residents south of the Newhall Pass, burning 7,542 acres, destroying 31 structures, closing multiple freeways and leading to the cardiac arrest and resulting death of one resident.
The fire, which began shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday, grew to 4,700 acres within three hours, prompting evacuations in Sylmar, Granada Hills and Porter Ranch.
By late afternoon Friday, both lanes of Interstate-5 through the Newhall Pass were open. Southbound traffic on Highway 14, west of Newhall Avenue, however, remained closed.
By mid-afternoon Friday, the fire had fanned out along the southern foot of the Santa Susana Mountains, from Sylmar to Reseda, leaving more than two dozen homes burning in its wake. Fire officials reported it 13% contained as of Friday afternoon.
The fire was blamed for the death of a man who suffered a heart attack, said Los Angeles City Fire Department officials. One firefighter suffered a minor eye injury.
About 11:30 p.m. Thursday, the Sylmar blaze had hopped Interstate 5 and sparked a fire that began burning west of the freeway near Balboa Boulevard, but remaining south of the SCV.
As the fire grew, the California Highway Patrol shut down the I-5, I-210 and State Route 14.
The CHP reported a SigAlert just after midnight for the I-5 in both directions — northbound just south of the 210 and southbound at Calgrove Boulevard — with all lanes closed for an unknown duration. Subsequently, the 14 freeway was also closed between Newhall and the I-5 connector.
Mandatory evacuations were called for the entire Porter Ranch community shortly after 2 a.m., with reports the fire was moving toward Ventura County.
Capt. Robert Lewis of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station cautioned that the fire and resulting freeway closures would have an impact on the Friday morning commute into and out of the SCV.
“We’ve identified some areas that are closed in and out of Santa Clarita,” Lewis said in a televised news conference just before 3 a.m. in the San Fernando Valley.
“So, we know the (Friday) morning commute is going to be coming up. There’s going to be a lot of people that are going to want to leave Santa Clarita or get into Santa Clarita for work,” Lewis said. “We ask that the community be patient as they are leaving and coming in and out of Santa Clarita.”
As of 4 a.m., televised reports showed active fire burning in the Newhall Pass on what appeared to be a commercial property near Balboa and Foothill Boulevards.
When the sun came up, fire was still burning just south of the SCV as homes continued to burn in the northern San Fernando Valley. CHP officials said early Friday morning they had received reports of fire approaching State Route 14 near Placerita Canyon Road.
More than 1,000 firefighters, water-dumping SuperScoopers and a Sky Crane were still battling the blaze Friday morning.
Residents awoke Friday morning to news that schools in the SCV were closed Friday.
By 8:30 a.m., the Saddleridge Fire had burned more than 4,700 acres and destroyed at least 25 structures, with mandatory evacuations for about 12,700 homes.
Santa Ana winds, north to south, which prompted officials at the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for Thursday, pushed the fire to the southwest across Sylmar, Granada Hills and Porter Ranch.
“We are expecting the winds to decrease later in the afternoon,” NWS spokeswoman Keily Delerme said of the Santa Ana winds. “The winds will be a lot weaker than they were (Thursday).”
Delerme stressed, however, that although the winds would diminish, extremely dry conditions would remain.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Friday, however, the National Weather Service extended its red flag warning until Saturday.
Local roads shut down because of the fire included The Old Road from Pico Canyon Road to Sierra Highway, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.
The Old Road from McBean Parkway to Pico Canyon Road remained open Friday but only for emergency vehicles.
I-5 remained closed from the SR-118 freeway to Calgrove Boulevard, according to Caltrans. As well, the northbound and southbound connectors to the eastbound lanes of the 118 remained closed.
With all roadways shut down through the Newhall Pass, motorists bound for Los Angeles looking for alternatives were being told by map-direction apps to traverse the mountains from Fillmore to Moorpark on SR-23 and through the Angeles National Forest along Big Tujunga Road.
Although SR-23 remained open, the traffic through there, as of 10 a.m., had become jammed, said officer Josh Greengard, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol’s Newhall office.
The ANF route following Sand Canyon Road to the south through the mountains was not advised, he said.
“That route was open but a couple of big rigs tried to go through it and could not get through,” he said.
Cancelled services and events
All Metrolink trains on the Antelope Valley Line through Santa Clarita were out of service Friday.
City of Santa Clarita officials reported the closure of all programming for adult sports, youth sports, aquatics and contract classes. The Newhall Community Center and Canyon Country Community Center were closed.
A special meeting of the SCV Water Agency’s board of directors scheduled for Friday afternoon was cancelled.
All foothill league junior varsity football games were postponed until Saturday, with specific times to be announced later.
The Valencia versus Hart varsity football at College of the Canyons, however, remained scheduled to be played Friday night. The Canyon vs. West Ranch game at Valencia High School was also to be played Friday night.
However, the Saugus versus Golden Valley game had been rescheduled for Saturday night at Canyon beginning at 7 p.m.
Two community events were canceled for Saturday:
The Samuel Dixon Family Health Center announced the cancellation of its 17th Annual Duck Dash – Rubber Ducky Festival on Saturday due to the rapidly growing fires and poor air quality.
And, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department announced the cancellation of its “Fun in the Sun” chili cook-off that was to be held at the Jack Bones Equestrian Center at the Pitchess Detention Center, with proceeds benefiting Special Olympics Santa Clarita and Tri-Valley.
No SCV evacuations
SCV residents got some reassurance at 1:15 p.m. when officials announced there was no current threat to the Santa Clarita Valley from the Saddleridge Fire.
Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for the SCV Sheriff’s Station, said Friday afternoon: “We’ve had zero evacuations (in Santa Clarita). We’re very much on guard monitoring closely and staying in contact with the Fire Department, LAPD and CHP.”
“We want residents to remain vigilant and have a plan in mind if the situation should change,” she said.
Greenguard of the CHP confirmed they had heard no reports of local evacuations.
The winds gradually diminished — from gusts from 45 to 75 mph Thursday night to 25 mph by Friday morning and 17 mph by mid-afternoon. Fire officials reported having a handle on the fire with 13% containment.
With reports from Perry Smith, Tammy Murga and Tim Whyte.