By Caleb Lunetta, Rylee Holwager & Jose Herrera
A brush fire broke out in Castaic on Wednesday, burning thousands of acres near Interstate 5 and Lake Hughes Road, prompting closures of Interstate 5 in both directions and multiple evacuation orders.
“We anticipate some north winds into the morning with a shift back to this afternoon’s condition southwest wind, which will push it back towards Lake Castaic,” said Tom Ewald, deputy fire chief for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, during a press conference Wednesday evening. “Our aim is to use both the day and night flying helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, along with our ground personnel to really continue to box this in and prevent any further growth.”
As of 8:30 p.m., mandatory evacuations were in place for all structures north of Northlake Hills Elementary School, south of Templin Highway including Paradise Ranch Mobile Estates, east of Highway 5 and west of Castaic Lake lagoon, according to the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.
Deputies lifted evacuations south of Northlake Hills Elementary School later in the evening.
The Red Cross was working to establish a shelter at West Ranch High School in Stevenson Ranch and Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, according to a tweet from L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station also issued an announcement of the evacuations due to the blaze, dubbed the Route Fire, saying that “mandatory evacuations and road closures still in place for Paradise Mobile Estates and structures south of Templin Highway along Upper Ridge Route Road. Evacuations now in place for all structures north of Lake Hughes Road, east of the (I-5).”
The city of Santa Clarita announced Route Fire evacuees can take small animals to the Castaic Animal Shelter located at 31044 North Charlie Canyon Road via Twitter.
Evacuees were instructed to go to lacounty.gov/emergency for information on available resources.
According to CalFire, the blaze had burned 4,625 acres as of 8:30 p.m. with 0% containment.
The fire was first reported at approximately 12:01 p.m.
Initial reports indicated that it was multiple acres in size and that some lanes on the freeway were being closed to allow first responders access down the road.
“We have a first-alarm brush response from L.A. County Fire Department and Angeles National Forest,” said Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Ruben Munoz at approximately 12:10 p.m. “It is 5-7 acres in size.”
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station announced mandatory evacuation orders for the Paradise Ranch Estates mobile home park, and all structures south of Templin Highway along Upper Ridge Route Road, at approximately 4:03 p.m. All residents were ordered to evacuate to the north, according to law enforcement.
Almost an hour later, Barger tweeted that she received word that Northlake Hills Elementary School evacuated due to the Route Fire.
“@SCVSHERIFF deputies are thankfully on scene and are ensuring a safe evacuation for the 10 staff members and [few] remaining students on campus,” Barger wrote in her tweet.
According to Charmin Ortega, executive assistant to Castaic Union School District Superintendent Steve Doyle, the district was in constant communication with the Fire Department as of 12:30 p.m.
“They’ve kept us aware of what’s going on. There’s not been any structure concerns,” Ortega said, several hours before the school was ordered to be evacuated. “There’s not been any shelter in place, no evacuations. As a matter of fact, kids are being released from campuses for early dismissal today, and it’s [part of] our normal schedule.”
Northlake Hills Elementary School will be closed Thursday due to the emergency, according to district officials.
“(California Highway Patrol) has all northbound lanes of I-5 freeway closed and traffic is being diverted off at Parker Road,” said Officer Josh Greengard, a spokesman for CHP Newhall. “We hope to have the freeway open shortly.”
The California Department of Transportation announced detours for northbound traffic, which was being turned around at the median gate in Castaic.
At 12:35 p.m. a second-alarm brush response was called, meaning that 195 personnel, 12 engines and multiple helicopters were called to the scene. A third-alarm brush response was called shortly after and the fire had reportedly jumped the freeway and was burning on both the northbound and southbound sides of the road, according to Esteban Benitez, a spokesman for the L.A. County Fire Department.
Eight firefighter injuries had been reported as of Wednesday afternoon, mostly for heat-related issues, Fire Department personnel said.
Six firefighters were transported to a nearby hospital, according to fire officials.
A bulldozer operator was being treated at the scene of the fire for smoke inhalation near Templin Highway and Ridge Route at approximately 4:30 p.m., according to emergency personnel radio traffic.
According to fire officials, there were no confirmed reports of structure damage as a result of the Route Fire. However, there were reports of a structure and trailer fire at 35259 Old Ridge Road with possible animals trapped in the trailer.
A team of firefighters were dispatched to the location.
In its early stages, the fire edged close to Castaic neighborhoods.
“They’re about 30 minutes away from the fire,” Munoz said at approximately 1 p.m., referencing a neighborhood in the area. “But it looks like our helicopters have been able to put an aggressive push on that position.”
Additionally, Munoz said fire crews had been able to reach the areas around the homes and were laying down protective line — or using hand tools to eliminate possible fuel sources by digging out vegetation — in order to protect the neighborhood.
“At this point in time, we feel we have adequate resources to meet the needs for the structure defense mission,” Ewald said during the press conference Wednesday evening. “We’ll continue to provide structural defense along Lake Castaic area along the Ridge Route. But at this time, we believe we have adequate resources in place.”
Zuleika Gonzales, a Castaic resident who lives near the fire, said she was working from home when she heard the helicopters overhead and her coworkers informed her there was a fire in her area.
“I came out and it sounded pretty close to home,” said Gonzales. “I have a daughter that goes to school so that was another one of my concerns and I wanted to make sure I knew exactly where she was.”
William S. Hart Union High School District Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said that Castaic High was not in danger as of 2 p.m. However, it did appear that there were traffic consequences in the area as a result of the incident.
Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel have been using the Castaic Lake lagoon in order to fill up their aircraft to help battle the blaze.
“The aim will be to get people back into their homes as soon as possible,” Ewald said. “As the threat passes, and we’re able to get into the neighborhoods and assess with our partners from California for Southern California Edison, and others, that make sure that the neighborhoods are safe, then we can make the determination of being able to let people back in.”
“But it is really one of our high priorities to ensure that we’re not keeping people out of their homes.”
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.