The effort to control the raging Sand fire in the Santa Clarita Valley mountains has drawn firefighters and emergency crews in the hills toward Acton. So far, the fire has burned 38,346 acres.
A total of 2,937 firefighters are battling the blaze, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The wildfire prompted the evacuation of at least 10,000 homes, although late Monday, officials allowed most evacuees to return to their homes. The blaze is 40% contained. At least 18 homes have been destroyed.
A state of emergency was issued Tuesday for Los Angeles County, where the Sand fire has scorched 37,473 acres, destroyed homes and led to at least one fatality.
Acting Gov. Tom Torlakson, the state’s top education official, who is filling in this week for Gov. Jerry Brown, issued the emergency order, a move that helps get aid swiftly to affected communities.
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 on account of the smoke.
Children, older adults and those with respiratory or heart disease were advised to remain inside and keep windows and doors closed.
The apocalyptic haze from the Sand fire has triggered air-quality advisories as far away as Reno.
The Sand fire has been blamed for one fatality.
Robert Bresnick, 67, was discovered dead about 7:20 p.m. Saturday inside a burned car parked in a driveway outside a home in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita.
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.
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."
A Lancaster prison is providing shelter for rescue animals as the Sand fire continues to burn in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The State Prison-Los Angeles County is watching over nearly 50 deaf dogs from the Deaf Dog Rescue of America in Acton, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The rescue said it struggled to find a place that would be able to accept all of the dogs, which are now being cared for by inmates.
"It wasn't mandatory, nor did we have impending flames licking at our heels," the rescue wrote on Facebook. "We decided to be better safe than sorry because we love our dogs here. They come first, always."
The state prison is home to Karma Rescue, a rehabilitative program in which professionals and inmates train shelter dogs in basic obedience and socialization to prepare them for adoption.
"We struggled to find a place that would be able to take all of the dogs," the deaf dog rescue said. "We arrived to find the man-cages ready for the dogs ... food, water, beds, igloos!"
Along the winding, narrow, two-lane Little Tujunga Canyon Road, the canyons are black and sun beams are obscured by the smoke. The strong smell of smoke wafts through the air.
There wind has subsided since Monday and it's mostly quiet — save for the chirping birds, the helicopters overhead and the occasional rustle from ashy trees starting to crumble.
Street signs are blackened. A sign with a fire gauge leading into the canyon still has the arrow to the highest fire danger: critical.
At one of the burned homes on the road, there are crumpled yellow firemen's hoses left in the steep driveway.
The house is destroyed, but the "For Sale" sign out front remains intact. Its walls are collapsed, with the wooden roof beam resting in the living room, broken red clay roof tiles surrounding the house and bubbled exterior house paint flapping in the breeze.
Despite the destruction, people slowly filtered into the repopulated areas.
Firefighters reported progress Tuesday in the battle against the Sand fire that has scorched the Santa Clarita Valley and cast a pall over parts of Los Angeles County.
The blaze grew slightly to 37,473 acres, but more than 3,000 firefighters worked through the night and were able to make some progress. The fire is now 25% contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
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.
The majority of the estimated 20,000 people evacuated from the Sand fire will be allowed to return home tonight, fire officials said.
The downgrade of evacuations comes as the fire grew Monday to 35,155 acres and remained 10% contained, according to the Los Angeles County fire department.
After 7 p.m., all evacuation orders will be lifted except for residents in three areas:
- Placerita Canyon Road from Running Horse Lane to Pacy Street
- Little Tujunga Canyon Road from the Wildlife Way Station to where Sand Canyon Road meets Placerita Canyon Road
- Agua Dulce Canyon Road from just south of the 14 Freeway to the intersection with Soledad Canyon Road; and for one mile in either direction along Soledad Canyon Road from the intersection with Agua Dulce Road
Driving through the tiny town of Acton, nearly every roadway is blocked going into the canyons and mountains. Fire trucks line the street here and firefighters sleep in the city park.
Tony Stubbins lives full-time in his RV, a dream he and his wife long had. His wife died a few years ago, and he kept to their plan.
He stays in his RV at the Thousand Trails Soledad Canyon campsite near Acton, a site he's been around since he was a kid. On Sunday, Stubbins, 61, and the others in RVs were evacuated as the Sand fire burned closer.
"The sky turned yellow," Stubbins said. He knew the flames were near, and the sun was reflecting off them.
"The sheriff came through," Stubbins said, "and said, 'Everybody's got to go.'"
He grabbed his campsite neighbor, who was staying in a tent, and fled down Crown Valley Road, amid a traffic jam of RVs.
In the four decades he's lived in the Acton area, he said, "this is the worst fire I've ever seen. It just keeps changing directions."
On Monday afternoon, Stubbins and a few others who live in RVs were perched on chairs on the front porch outside the Original Acton Market, shooting the breeze with anyone who walked in. He parked his RV outside and stayed there for the night.
The store owners, evacuees said, kept the shop open late, even as nearby businesses closed and employees left to evacuate.
Evacuees were allowed to plug in a coffee pot and make themselves at home. When the owner finally left late Sunday, he put out a big pan of ribs for those on the porch.
It's a small town, Stubbins said, and everyone looks out for each other.
One cashier said people have been frantically calling the store, checking to see whether the store was open as seemingly all the highway exits into town closed.
Uncertainty lingered in Acton over what was closed down and where exactly the fire was.
"There's a lot of confusion," Stubbins said. "We just want people to know the people of Acton are here. People are frustrated. There's not been much on the news about Acton."
With scant specific information in the news, people are asking firefighters at the barricades and along the streets for reliable information.
As the group of evacuees chatted on the porch, a Beverly Hills fire truck rolled by on Smith Avenue.
"Hey, look, Beverly Hills!" one man shouted.
When a Beverly Hills firefighter in his yellow suit came to the store's front door, the men joked with him.
"Hey, Beverly Hills!" one person said. "From Coldwater Canyon Drive all the way to Acton!"
Satellite imagery obtained Sunday during a flyover by NASA's Landsat satellite shows the burn scar left by the more than 30,000-acre Sand fire.
The satellite image also shows smoke plumes and hot spots where the fire has continued to smolder.
It's not just humans who have fled the destruction of the Sand fire.
The blaze has displaced 165 goats, 111 chickens, 33 pigs and even a Brahma bull, which are now among the nearly 770 animals at shelters under the care of Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control workers.
Eight shelters have opened for animals affected by the blaze, which broke out Friday afternoon and has raced through the canyons above Los Angeles.
Susan Hartland, executive director of Wildlife Waystation, looked through glass doors at the sanctuary in the Angeles National Forest on Monday and saw a plume of smoke coming from the back of a mountain. That's what she saw Friday, too, just before she had to start loading up lions and tigers and other assorted animals for evacuations.
"That's how it started," she said, staring at the smoke.
When the massive Sand fire erupted Friday along the 14 Freeway at Sand Canyon, 30- to 50-mph winds fanned the flames on hillsides carpeted with tinder-like chaparral, pushing them into the national forest.
Those flames made their way toward the Wildlife Waystation at about 7 p.m. Two hours later, Hartland and more than 20 staff and volunteers began evacuating about 50 wild animals including reptiles, camels, tigers and lions.
She said when the Station fire forced the sanctuary to evacuate, staff and volunteers had 48 hours. But in the Sand fire, they only had two hours.
Some of the animals had to be sedated as they were being transported to nearby facilities, she said, and some chimps and bears had to be left behind.
"You can only hope for the best," she said.
It was about 3 a.m. Saturday when she and members of the sanctuary were allowed to go back up and check on the animals. The fire didn't reach the sanctuary, and all of the animals were safe, she said.
"It was short of a miracle," Hartland said. "We were lucky."
She said the fire still poses a threat. Although the blaze most likely won't burn in their direction, winds could drive embers into the area and once again threaten the sanctuary, which is going to be celebrating its 40th anniversary in September.
The danger posed by the Sand fire depends on how close people are to the flames, said Mark Morocco, a clinical professor of emergency medicine at UCLA.
If people are close enough that the fire is actually in their neighborhood or yard, there is fine particulate matter, such as ash, that can trigger asthma and cardiac stress in people with chronic lung disease, he said.
Those who are very close also risk carbon monoxide poisoning, he added.
With smoke plumes, there also is the danger of chemicals in the air, he said.
If there's a fire burning in an area with poison ivy or poison oak, for example, chemicals from the plants can get into the smoke and actually cause lungs to burn like skin.
When fires burn buildings and structures, there can be metals, arsenic and benzines in the smoke. The air, he said, could be worse than a bad smog day because of all of the extra substances in it.
For everyone, it is best to “throttle down on your exercise” and get to places with better air quality, Morocco said.
"It’s like being around second-hand smoke," he said. "This is a good time to sort of chill out.”
People, even healthy ones, can feel “more snotty,” and sound like they have a so-called smoker’s cough and feel sluggish or like they have chest heaviness if they inhale much of this air, he said.
People who are anxious or have depression also could be genuinely affected by the sight of the smoke, he said.
“People feel anxious about it when the sky looks like a zombie apocalypse, when the sky is red and these smoke plumes are on the horizon," Morocco said. "If you have anxiety, you’re going to feel worse, or if you have depression, you could actually get depressed.”
Bruce Sanborn, 55, and his partner, Suzi Fox, 56, and her daughter Halie Fox, 14, lost the house they’d lived in on Little Tujunga Canyon Road for 2½ years, next to Bruce’s mother’s house.
The day before the fire started, Suzi noticed a sign with a dial that said the fire danger was "critical," the highest rating. She’d never seen it that high, she said.
On Friday afternoon, they saw the smoke as they were driving home, but it seemed pretty far from where they lived. They know they live in a wildfire-prone area, but the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, so they thought they were in the clear.
In the evening, the winds shifted and blew the fire right toward them. Suzi had gone to pick up Halie from a friend’s house, and a few minutes later, driving back up the hill, they were surprised to see the street barricaded. It was about 11:30 p.m.
“I was, like, wait a minute, I just came down this, what’s going on?” she said. “I got up to the driveway, and all of a sudden, there were lights. The sheriffs were there. I was, like, why is he following me?”
Suzi said they were told they needed to evacuated. “Now,” a deputy said.
More than 760 animals have been rescued from the Sand fire and are being taken care of in nine locations, officials said.
The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control is watching more than 345 horses, 165 goats, 111 chickens and 33 pigs. In all, 768 animals are being taken care of.
The agency and partner groups are caring for a host of other animals, including llamas, mules, rabbits, donkeys and a Brahma bull.
Shelter locations include the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, Hansen Dam and Pierce College.
County of Los Angeles Animal Care Centers at Lancaster, Agoura, Castaic and Palmdale are taking in evacuated pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs.
Care is also being provided at the Hart and Highland evacuation shelters.