By Caleb Lunetta, Tammy Murga & Jim Holt
Signal Staff Writers
Wind-swept flames roared down Tick Canyon Thursday, burning at least half a dozen homes, threatening hundreds more along the northern edge of the Santa Clarita Valley, and forcing the evacuation of between 40,000 and 50,000 homes from Saugus to Agua Dulce.
The fast-moving fire burned nearly 4,000 acres as of Thursday evening, sparked a second fire near Castaic Lake and a third fire in the heart of Val Verde.
At least several homes burned in the SCV Thursday. However, fire officials could not confirm the total.
“Numerous homes were burned,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said at a press conference at 8 p.m. “But, we cannot get an accurate count during the evening. So bear with us.”
“We know there is at least six (burned homes) but that number may rise,” she said.
One house that went up in flames was off of Poppy Meadow, on Rhododendron Drive near Melia Way, according to Ben Cather, who learned of the loss from his brother, Matthew, whom he said tried to organize his neighbors to fight the fire on their own.
“My family lives off Poppy Meadow, where the fire raged with no support due to competing fires,” Ben Cather said.
“My brother and family were told to evacuate. There were no fire trucks in sight and a police officer came to the house and told them that they were on their own and to pack and leave,” he said.
“My brother decided to organize an effort with the neighbors and homeowner to fight the fire on their own,” Cather said. “He was able to save multiple houses on the street with flames coming up to the property lines. However, one house on the street did go up in flames, unfortunately.”
Asked how many homes burned, Fire Department spokesman Sky Cornell said: “We don’t know how many homes were burned.”
Homes seen burning on Abelia Drive, Park Glen Drive and Shadow Pines Boulevard are among the homes being reviewed by fire officials, who are expected to have a number to report by Friday morning, Cornell said.
Additionally, two homes that were seen burning in Castaic, including a structure on The Old Road, were also among the homes being tallied by officials in the assessment of damage done.
“There are some structures that were burned in the Tick Fire and the Tick Branch 10 Fire,” Marvin Lim, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said earlier in the day.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby said 500 firefighters and four water-dumping helicopters would be working throughout the night on the Tick Fire.
“We have zero containment,” he added. “There were 10,000 structures impacted. We do have several structures that were damaged.”
Osby said damage assessment teams are expected to reveal Friday how many homes were burned.
“We’re expecting stronger winds tonight. There may be some re-populating of some communities,” he said, referring to aircraft assessing damage from the air.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said deputies would be posted on evacuated streets overnight.
The southbound lanes of Highway 14 were shut down from Palmdale to Newhall for most of the afternoon. Northbound lanes of the highway, however, remained open, Cornell said.
Caltrans reported no closure of Interstate 5 in the Santa Clarita Valley as of Thursday evening after it was partially closed in the afternoon.
“The northbound I-5 was closed due to fire personnel needing the freeway for firefighting. The northbound 5 was closed at Lake Hughes (Road) for around one hour, maybe a little more,” California Highway Patrol Officer Josh Greengard said, noting the southbound lanes of I-5 remained open Thursday.
CHP Capt. Edward Krusey told the 8 p.m. press conference that all highways were open but that the off ramps on the southbound lanes of Highway 14 at Soledad Canyon Road and Sand Canyon Road were closed.
Residents in neighborhoods affected by the Tick Fire were — ironically — among the more than 1,600 in Los Angeles County without power after Southern California Edison pulled the plug Thursday in an effort to prevent brush fires.
Leona Valley, Green Valley, Lake Hughes, eastern parts of Canyon Country, the Shadow Pines neighborhood, Lake Hughes and Agua Dulce were areas left without power when Edison shut off their power, a protocol Edison calls a Public Safety Power Shut Off, or PSPS.
The same blackout areas experienced the first PSPS outage on Oct. 10 when a red flag warning was issued due to heightened fire risk conditions.
At 6 p.m., Cornell put the scale and scope of the Tick Fire into perspective, explaining with the use of a map, just now many SCV residents were displaced.
Evacuations for residents affected by the Tick Fire occurred in two main areas.
The first area of evacuations was happening south of Highway 14, north of Placerita Canyon Road and west of Sand Canyon Road.
The second and larger evacuation area was described by Cornell as being north of Highway 14, south and east of Bouquet Canyon Road and south of Vasquez Canyon Road, between Plum Canyon Road and Agua Dulce Canyon Road.
By Thursday evening, the number of acres burned by the Tick Fire totaled 3,950.
During the firefighting efforts, one of the helicopters sustained damage in a bird strike. No one was hurt.
It all began shortly after 1:30 p.m., when Los Angeles County Fire Department officials responded to reports of a fast-spreading brush fire in Canyon Country, and especially Tick Canyon.
The vegetation fire was reported near the intersection of Tick Canyon Road and Summit Knoll Road shortly after 1:40 p.m., running uphill and threatening structures, according to Fire Department Inspector Sean Rios.
In just less than an hour, the fire had grown in size from 200 acres at 2:03 p.m. to more than 850 acres by 2:50 p.m. with “an immediate need for structure protection,” according to the Fire Department.
By 2:10 p.m., officials announced a third alarm response to the Tick Fire, with multiple homes threatened. Both air and ground units were called to the scene, according to officials.
Weather conditions challenged fire suppression efforts as strong Santa Ana winds were reported gusting at up to 55 mph, which is expected to continue through Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service.
The California Highway Patrol issued a Sigalert at 3:31 p.m. on the northbound lanes of Highway 14, with heavy traffic congestion reported as far back as to where Interstate 5 and Highway 14 meet.
The William S Hart Union High School District announced all career and college readiness classes and some events were canceled as a result of the Tick Fire, according to Public Relations Officer Dave Caldwell. Those events include all outdoor activities at Canyon High School, La Mesa Junior High School, and Thursday football games at Golden Valley and Saugus high schools.
As the fire intensified and spread, Hart District administrators announced that all William S. Hart Union High School District classes were canceled for Friday.
Schools in the Sulphur Springs Union School District, Newhall School District and Saugus Union School District were also scheduled to be closed Friday. The Santa Clarita Valley International School is also closed Friday.
Due to fire conditions, all classes at the California Institute of the Arts and events there were canceled Thursday.
An evacuation center was set up briefly at Golden Valley High School but changed to a much larger venue at College of the Canyons a short time later.
Deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station carried out more evacuations on additional local streets, said Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for the SCV Sheriff’s Station.
Evacuations on the following streets were underway, she said. They include:
- North and east of Plum Canyon Road.
- North and east of Whites Canyon Road.
- North and east of Soledad Canyon Road, north of Highway 14, west of Sequoia Road
- Davenport Road, east of Sierra Highway and including all streets off of Davenport Road.
By 5 p.m., fire officials had opened up a second evacuation center at the Newhall Community Center. Displaced residents are urged to go there or to COC in Valencia.
With regards to livestock, arrangements have been made to have large animals and livestock taken to Pierce College, 6201 Winnetka Ave., in Woodland Hills.
On Twitter: @jamesarthurholt