Hundreds of firefighters fought for control over a 5,800-acre brush fire Saturday in the Verdugo Mountains north of downtown Los Angeles that forced the evacuations of hundreds of homes and shut down a nine-mile stretch of the 210 Freeway.
The La Tuna fire was believed to be one of the largest in L.A. city history in terms of sheer acreage, officials said. The blaze destroyed three homes in Tujunga, but no injuries were reported.
The fire, which shrouded the sky with plumes of white smoke, was only 10% contained late Saturday.
It broke out a day earlier, with shifting winds sending flames in multiple directions. Fire crews confronted the same erratic conditions on Saturday, Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said.
“Our biggest concern is the wind and weather,” Terrazas said. “The erratic weather is our No. 1 challenge. If there’s no wind, this is a relatively easy fire to put out. But when the wind changes, it changes our priorities because other properties become at risk.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a local emergency Saturday night and asked Gov. Jerry Brown to do the same “so that state and federal assistance can be provided to the city as quickly as possible.”
“We are grateful for the men and women of LAFD, and all of our partner agencies, for their heroic efforts to bring the fire under control and to keep people and their homes safe,” Garcetti said.
Firefighters were hoping for some relief overnight from a heat wave that has gripped much of the state for days.
Winds were expected to die down Saturday night as temperatures dropped to the low 80s near the La Tuna fire area, according to the National Weather Service. Humidity was also expected to increase as monsoonal moisture from Tropical Storm Lidia moves into the region. The weather system could bring rain and thunderstorms.
The fire continued to burn on multiple fronts Saturday southwest of the 210 Freeway, which remained closed between the 2 Freeway and Wheatland Avenue. Firefighters encountered punishing heat, with Burbank recording a high of 101 degrees while the Tujunga area reported 96, forecasters said.
Approximately 730 homes were placed under evacuation in Glendale, Burbank and the Sunland and Tujunga neighborhoods of Los Angeles, according to the city’s fire department.
One of those ordered to leave was Chris Hall, 37, who was spraying the roof of his Sunland home with a garden hose when two police officers pulled up to his driveway.
“Now it’s mandatory,” one of the officers told him. “Get your stuff and go.”
Hall said he wanted to stay but did not argue. He piled important documents and cherished belongings — including photos of his daughter’s birth, birthdays and visits to the zoo — into the trunk of his Nissan Sentra.
“Everything else can be replaced,” he said, sitting behind the wheel of his car.
In Tujunga, music teacher Valerie Keith frantically loaded her pets in her car, along with her two best violins, spilling the yogurt she had taken for breakfast. Before she left, she remembered something, dashing back inside to grab a framed photograph of her mother and a banjo made from a tambourine.
“When you have to leave for safety, then you suddenly realize what’s important,” she said.
In Glendale, emergency officials announced mandatory evacuations in the Glenwood Oaks and Mountain Oaks neighborhoods. And in Burbank, police went door to door early Saturday urging residents to evacuate on hillside streets at the city’s northern end.
Those orders followed a series of other evacuations called the night before.
Andrea Heintz, 78, was getting ready for bed Friday night when she saw on the news of an evacuation around Brace Canyon in Burbank, where she lives. She arrived at the hastily assembled Red Cross shelter in Burbank around 11 p.m.
Cots were not set up until 1:30 a.m. Heintz and other evacuees passed the time chatting and watching TV — and stepping outside to look at the burning bright orange in the hills.
“It was really scary,” she said.
Officials warned of poor air quality throughout the region. Burbank police officers were wearing respiratory masks because of the heavy smoke. The South Coast Air Quality Management District on Saturday recommended that children, older adults and people with respiratory disease living in smoke-impacted areas stay indoors.
Amid Saturday’s high temperatures, “you already have an inversion layer holding a lot of ozone and pollutants close to the surface,” said AQMD spokesman Patrick Chandler. “Then you add the fire and all the particulate matter that comes from the ash and the smoke.”
Residents in smoke-heavy areas were also advised to avoid using swamp coolers or whole-house fans to avoid bringing additional smoke indoors.
Evacuation centers were opened at McCambridge Park Recreation Center in Burbank, Sunland Recreation Center in Sunland, and Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta. A large-animal evacuation center was set up at the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center in Sylmar.
By mid-afternoon Saturday, more than 30 people had checked into the Burbank shelter. Some took naps to make up for the sleepless night.
Peter Glassberg, 64, brought in four of his cats and four rescue kittens that are up for adoption. Police transported the pets in carriers to animal control vans and drove them to the Burbank Animal Shelter, which is providing temporary shelter.
Glassberg said flames were 20 feet away from the road as he drove his beat-up SUV down the canyon and to the shelter. He arrived wearing faded jeans and a dusty cowboy hat, smelling like a campfire. He hadn’t slept in 32 hours.
Glassberg hugged his favorite cat, a Siamese named My Guy, before handing him over.
Another cat, Baby Girl, had escaped Glassberg’s trailer on La Tuna Canyon Road last week and had not come back before he was evacuated.
He watched when the fire started Friday afternoon and stayed up all night as it threatened to come down the hillside. He was packed and ready to go when the evacuation order came at 9 a.m. Saturday.
“I looked inside and I said, ‘No, it can go, it can go,’ ” he said, tears welling in his eyes. “It makes you face what’s important in your life.”
Times staff writer Ben Poston contributed to this report.
9:30 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with new information from fire officials.
4:20 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about the number of structures burned.
1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with more comments from evacuees.
1:05 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about evacuations.
Noon: This article has been updated with more comments from officials and evacuees.
10:50 a.m.: This article was updated with new information from fire officials’ news conference.
9:30 a.m.: This article was updated with new information about evacuations and weather conditions.
This article was originally posted at 8:10 a.m.