210 Freeway reopened, all evacuation orders lifted as firefighters gain upper hand on Verdugo Mountains fire

The 210 Freeway was reopened and all evacuation orders were lifted Sunday evening as firefighters were assisted by cooler temperatures and brief showers in their battle against the 7,003-acre brush fire in the Verdugo Mountains north of downtown Los Angeles.

All but one lane of the freeway, which was shut down between the 2 Freeway and Wheatland Avenue, reopened about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Caltrans spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said. One lane in each direction between Lowell Avenue and Sunland Boulevard will remain closed.

All evacuation orders in Burbank, Glendale and the Sunland-Tujunga area were lifted at 6 p.m. At the peak of the fire, more than 700 residents were evacuated throughout the region.

Earlier Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County as firefighters continued to battle the La Tuna fire that destroyed three homes and shut down the freeway.

The governor’s declaration came at the urging of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said it would ensure that state and federal assistance was provided as quickly as possible. Garcetti described the fire as the biggest in the history of the city in terms of sheer acreage.

Firefighters got some much welcomed relief Sunday from a heat wave that has gripped much of the state for days. Temperatures ranged in the mid-90s and rain fell in some burn areas as monsoonal moisture from Tropical Storm Lidia moved into the region. Winds were also calmer, but officials warned that could change.

“The biggest challenge and risk is the wind,” said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.

The fire, which broke out Friday and burned on both sides of the freeway, was 30% contained Sunday night, officials said. More than 1,000 were battling the blaze, and the chief said full containment of the fire is expected within three or four days.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but officials said there is no evidence of arson.

Meanwhile, thunderstorms moving toward L.A. County on Sunday evening could bring rainfall and gusty winds to the burn area, said Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Light showers were reported earlier Sunday afternoon.

“The gusty winds aren’t going to help,” Smith said. “But depending on if we were to get significant, measurable rain over it, yeah, that would help.”

Temperatures are expected to cool down slightly in the region Monday, dropping below 100 degrees.

When Burbank resident Craig Bollesen stopped by to see his parents in Shadow Hills on Saturday morning, the flames seemed distant from their home. For hours, the fire appeared to be creeping slowly into the nearby valley as they packed up photographs and the quilts his mother had made, just in case.

Then Bollesen saw the flames rushing toward the house, faster than he thought he could run.

“It was exploding down the hill,” Bollesen said. “I said, ‘We need to move!’ ”

They loaded the family into their car, said a prayer and fled. Bollesen said he returned hours later to find the charred remains of his parents’ home on Green Verdugo Drive.

“We all know the danger,” Bollesen said, recounting how he and his parents had regularly worked to clear brush from around the house. Still, he said, “I don’t think it registers how quickly it changes from something that you could walk up and put out with a garden hose to a conflagration.”

The blaze has destroyed three homes and a shed, including structures in Tujunga and the house in Shadow Hills, fire officials said. Two firefighters were transported to hospitals Saturday for dehydration.

Evacuations were temporarily lifted Saturday night in Burbank. But officials said a flare-up caused them to issue new evacuation orders in the Burbank Estates and Castleman Lane areas.

On Sunday afternoon, Tujunga resident Frankie Fronk, 46, sat on an easy chair in front of his single-story ranch-style house on McGroarty Street, staring up at the recently burned ridgeline. He was looking for puffs of smoke, any sign of a flare-up.

Fronk said he was ordered to evacuate Saturday about 2:30 p.m. He and his wife grabbed a few mementos and their pit bull mix, Harley, and started calling around for a hotel. After checking about 10 different places, charging between $200 and $300, he finally found a place in Burbank for $135. But he returned home Sunday morning.

Fronk said that the fire later kicked up in the neighborhood, with the wind driving flames into a home up the street on Glenties Way.

Bob Hulbert, a 63-year-old member of the Big Tujunga volunteer fire department who lives nearby, said he used 1,500 gallons from his water truck Saturday night after fire officials came through that afternoon and told him he and his wife would be on their own because resources were needed elsewhere.

Hulbert and his wife, Deborah Hill, had already started watering down their backyard, snaking hoses up under the oaks that front the Verdugo Mountains. Hulbert, who had once seen a fire sweep through a tree canopy in Pasadena, was concerned about the oak trees.

But he was ready for a fire like this, equipped with a water cannon connected to a 30,000-gallon pool, a 500-gallon tank by the street and a 2,500-gallon water truck. The couple used the cannon to send a stream of water 150 feet into the surrounding trees. Later that night, an engine crew returned and stayed all night.

Firefighters were also battling a 3,800-acre brush fire Sunday in Riverside County that forced more than 400 people to evacuate their homes.

The Palmer fire broke out around 1:30 p.m. Saturday west of Beaumont and rapidly spread by nightfall. The blaze is believed to have been ignited by fireworks, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

As of Sunday, the fire was 35% contained. More than 400 firefighters have been working to stop its spread, assisted by air tankers.

Evacuation orders and road closures were lifted at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Times staff writers Ruben Vives, Andrea Castillo and David Zahniser contributed to this report.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesEmily

thomas.curwen@latimes.com

Twitter: @tcurwen

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AleneTchek

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UPDATES:

9:35 p.m.: This article was updated with new acreage and containment numbers.

6:55 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the reopening of the 210 Freeway.

5:45 p.m.: This article was updated with new comments from the mayor.

4:30 p.m.: This article was updated with more comments from area residents.

1:50 p.m.: This article was updated with the governor’s declaration.

1:15 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from an evacuee.

12:40 p.m.: This article was updated with new information from the National Weather Service.

11:45 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from city and fire officials.

10:55 a.m.: This article was updated with the latest weather conditions.

9 a.m.: This article was updated with news of a local disaster declaration.

7 a.m.: This article was updated with a new Burbank evacuation order.

This article was originally published at 5:50 a.m.

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