By Trevor Morgan & Rylee Holwager
Signal Staff Writers
The Route Fire in Castaic had burned through 5,208 acres and was 27% contained as of Thursday evening, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Two structures have been destroyed, 550 structures have been threatened and seven firefighters have been injured. However, as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Fire Department officials said all evacuations — which had previously been in place for anything on the Old Ridge Route between Northlake Hills Elementary School and Templin Highway — were lifted.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation Thursday evening.
The Fire Department released an incident update Thursday morning that detailed the scope and scale of the battle firefighters were expected to face later on in the day.
“Excessive heat, low humidity and steep terrain will continue to pose the biggest challenge for firefighters today,” read the update. “The combination has a potential for large plume growth, uphill runs and short-range spotting. Current objectives include keeping the fire west of Castaic Lake, east of Palumas Canyon, south of Fall Creek, and north of Lake Hughes Road.”
The statement added that firefighters would attempt to further contain the blaze before the midday heat and that two CL415 Super Scoopers from Quebec would assist in the fight. Thursday was the first official day of service for the Quebec aircraft, which are leased annually by Los Angeles County for the peak fire season.
On Wednesday, the fire completely closed the northbound Interstate 5. On Thursday, only one lane had been opened on the northbound side, according to Capt. Ed Krusey with the California Highway Patrol. Lanes one and four were closed on the southbound side.
“Caltrans is assessing the structural integrity of one portion on the northbound side,” said Krusey. “So once that is evaluated by an engineer, we can determine if we can open an additional lane.”
Krusey said the two lanes on the southbound side were closed to accommodate fire equipment, which was put in place in anticipation of any fires that may pop up near the freeway. Krusey noted that once it’s deemed unnecessary to have fire equipment at that location, those lanes would open back up.
At the Fire Department’s press conference on Thursday, Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Ewald said the cause of the fire was still under investigation and that no theories could be confirmed or denied. Ewald also said that some evacuation orders were expected to be lifted throughout the day, including the Paradise Ranch Mobile Estates.
According to the Los Angeles County Parks & Recreation Department Twitter page, Castaic Lake was temporarily closed on Thursday due to the fire. As of the time of this publication, it is unknown when the lake will reopen.
Two fire shelters were initially set up by the American Red Cross, but as of Thursday afternoon only the shelter at West Ranch High School (26255 West Valencia Blvd., Stevenson Ranch) remains open. The other shelter, located at Frazier Mountain High School in Gorman, was closed for an unknown reason.
The Red Cross stated that immediate lodging will be available for affected communities and that more information can be found here: rdcrss.org/3cLjish.
Residents are also being reminded to be prepared for an evacuation and to have their identification, medications, important documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc.), emergency supplies, a change of clothes, and toiletries prepared in a bag.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department issued an update saying the Old Ridge Route Road was back open, but only for residents of the area. Residents should be prepared to show their ID, proving they live in the area. Any residents driving this area were also advised to be vigilant and heed to any emergency vehicles.
The update also stated that both the northbound and southbound I-5 were opened, but that heavy traffic and delays should be expected.
At 4:20 p.m., Superintendent Steve Doyle, of the Castaic Union School District, issued a statement announcing that Northlake Hills Elementary would be closed through Friday.
“Thank you for your patience and understanding during this scary fire situation. Our staff was amazing yesterday in remaining calm and ensuring the safety of all of our students and families. It has been a very difficult 24 hours in our community,” wrote Doyle in a message to parents. “I have worked closely with Capt. (Justin) Diez of the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station to keep updated as things were constantly changing.”
Doyle also noted that the school did not sustain any structural damage as the fire was not able to jump the ridge on Ridge Route Road. He noted that a fire crew spent the night at Northlake Hills to protect the school.
Regardless of the lack of damage, Doyle wrote that an odor from the smoke was enough to extend the Labor Day weekend break.
“While the exterior of Northlake was not touched, inside there is a strong smoke odor. We have made the decision to keep Northlake closed (Friday) to allow us to bring a fire restoration company in (Friday) and over the weekend to reduce the smoke odor,” wrote Doyle. “All of the air conditioning units were shut down (Wednesday) when the school was evacuated but the smoke has still permeated the front office, MPR and multiple classrooms… We do apologize and recognize that this does create difficulty for many of you. Our priority is to work diligently to get the school ready for Tuesday. We ask for kindness and compassion with each other in these trying times.”
This is a breaking news story and more information will be provided as it becomes available.
Signal Senior Staff Writer Caleb Lunetta contributed to this report.