Sand fire burns more than 37,000 acres in Santa Clarita Valley, prompting state of emergency

A state of emergency was declared Tuesday for Los Angeles County, where the Sand fire has scorched 37,701 acres, destroyed homes and led to at least one fatality in Santa Clarita Valley.

Acting Gov. Tom Torlakson, the state’s top education official who is filling in this week while Gov. Jerry Brown attends the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, issued the emergency order, a move that helps quickly get aid to affected communities.

An emergency order was also issued for Monterey County, where firefighters are battling the Soberanes fire.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters continued Tuesday evening to battle the Sand fire, which was 25% contained, according to fire officials.

"There's still a lot of firefighting to be done," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Justin Correll said.

Sand fire updates: More than 37,000 acres burned in Santa Clarita Valley mountains »

Although the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department allowed most residents to return home Monday evening, hundreds of residents in three areas were still under evacuation orders.

L.A. County declared a local emergency Monday as the wildfire continued to grow.

The massive blaze erupted Friday along the northbound 14 Freeway at Sand Canyon Road. At least 18 structures have been destroyed and one damaged in the Angeles National Forest near Bear Divide and Sand Canyon areas, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The fire has been blamed for one fatality.

Robert Bresnick, 67, was discovered dead about 7:20 p.m. Saturday inside a burned car in a driveway outside a home in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road.

Bresnick was visiting a friend when evacuation orders went out to residents, said Ed Winter, spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. But Bresnick was apparently “uncooperative” and did not want to leave, he said. 

As flames approached, his friend began evacuating, but Bresnick went back inside the home.

“They were trying to get him to leave,” Winter said. 

He later emerged from the home, but it was too late. 

Bresnick’s friend ran for the hills, while Bresnick got into his car just as flames swept over the area.

Twenty minutes later, firefighters found his burned body inside the car, Winter said.

Neighbors on Tuesday said he was trying to rescue his dogs and got caught in the fire. Residents said his girlfriend fled with her pet before the flames ran through the home.

Morgan Franklin, who lives across the street from the home, said the couple had three dogs.

"Her house is gone, her boyfriend is gone," Franklin said. "It's crazy."

Investigators used dental records to identify Bresnick, officials said. An autopsy will be performed to determine an official cause of death.

Powerful winds have fueled flames, which were intensified by excessive heat and low humidity. The blaze scorched thousands of acres of forestland that hadn’t burned in several decades.

Ash from the fire fell throughout Los Angeles County, and smoke created an apocalyptic haze, even triggering air-quality advisories as far away as Reno.

On Tuesday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District extended a smoke advisory for the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita Valley and parts of the San Gabriel Mountains. Officials warned that the air could reach unhealthy levels because of the smoke.

The fire already left scorch marks that could be seen from space, according to NASA. Satellites traveling above the Earth recorded images showing slightly darkened canyons and hills in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The National Weather Service warned that 25 to 30 mph winds were expected through Thursday in the Santa Clarita Valley and area mountains. Strong winds were also forecast for the Antelope Valley.

“Elevated fire danger is expected to persist through late in the week and possibly through the weekend,” the weather service said. “The potential for rapid growth and extreme fire behavior will continue, for existing fires and for any new fire that occurs.”

The weather service urged “extreme caution,” especially in areas with heavy brush.

The strong winds fed uncertainty about the fire. Along Agua Dulce Canyon Road, residents were under an evacuation order, but some were hunkered down in their homes, keeping a watchful eye on the blaze.

Victoria Donohoe, 50, and her long-term boyfriend remained inside their home of more than two decades.

“We’ve been through this before,” Donohoe said. 

Her water supply was getting low, and like other residents here, she was prohibited from reentering the neighborhood if she drove past the police checkpoint. If the flames encroached, she said she had already set aside personal documents, pictures and clothes.

"We can tell when it's going to get close,” she said, “and we’re prepared to leave."

Times staff writer Veronica Rocha contributed to this report.

brittny.mejia@latimes.com

hailey.branson@latimes.com

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

For more breaking Southern California news, follow us on Twitter: @brittny_mejia, @haileybranson and @MattHjourno

 

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UPDATES:

8:05 p.m.: This article was updated with updated figures on the acres burned and details from some residents who had yet to evacuate their homes.

6:05 p.m.: This post was updated with the issuance of a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Monterey counties.

5:00 p.m.: This post was updated with details on air quality advisories and minor editing.

11:05 a.m.: This post was updated with comments from neighbors.

10:27 a.m.: This post was updated with details from the coroner’s office.

This article was originally published at 7:50 a.m.

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