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In the path of the Saddleridge fire, residents must make life-and-death decisions

The Saddleridge fire near Olive View Medical Center.
Firefighters kept an eye on the wildfire burning behind Olive View Medical Center on Friday in Sylmar.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Amelia Peters was already stressed before the fire inched toward her Porter Ranch home.

The 78-year-old said her landlord had recently given her a 60-day eviction notice, and thinking about the days ahead threw her into a panic. Her blood pressure spiked to 180 on Thursday, she said, and her husband took her to the emergency room. When she got out of hospital Thursday evening, she had a new problem: A hill near her home was on fire.

She monitored the flames from her windows and started checking on friends who lived in the area. She thought, in particular, of her friend Betty, who had moved into a home in Porter Ranch just a week earlier.

“Are u aware of the fire?” Peters texted her friend just after 11 p.m.

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“Yes,” her friend said, “we are being evacuated.”

“Hope you are all OK,” Peters wrote. “I’m packed and ready to go as soon as they give evacuation orders.”

By late morning Friday, the Saddleridge fire in the San Fernando Valley had exploded to 4,700 acres and burned 25 homes.

“I’ve been through this experience before,” her friend said. “Kind of traumatic to wake up to this.”

Peters eventually left her home around 4 a.m. and headed to Granada Hills Recreation Center with her Chihuahua, Bambi. She left behind her collection of blue-and-white ceramics and all of the paintings her three children had made over the years — her own little gallery, she said. But most of all she was worried about her husband, a music producer, who didn’t want to leave all of his equipment and decided to wait it out at home.

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At the evacuation site Friday morning, Peters looked down at her right arm, still bandaged from a blood draw at the hospital.

“Yesterday I went to Kaiser, because I was so stressed,” she said, laughing softly. “Now, I’m way more stressed.”

The Saddleridge fire has burned 25 homes and caused thousands to flee their homes.

The Mendoza family went to bed early on Thursday.

So Mitza Mendoza, 44, had already been asleep several hours when she heard what she assumed was an Amber Alert going off. She was groggy and didn’t check her phone. But then, sometime around 1 a.m., she woke up to the smell of smoke inside the family’s Porter Ranch home. Then, another alert came through.

“Mandatory Evacuation,” it read. She panicked.

“Ok, calm down, calm down,” Roberto Mendoza, 51, assured his wife in Spanish. “Let’s make a plan.”

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The couple rounded up the four young children, their English bulldog, Mr. Wrinkles, and Mitza’s father. They packed a change of clothes for the children and their passports and headed for the garage, which was filling with smoke.

Their street was choked with honking cars, as people tried to alert any still-sleeping neighbors. The family headed to the Granada Hills Recreation Center, and spent the night there.

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On Friday morning, Roberto Mendoza glanced down at his young son running around in circles outside the evacuation center. The little boy pulled a blue smoke mask covering his nose and let it snap back toward his face. He giggled, pulling back the mask again and again.

“I’m so glad we are safe,” Roberto Mendoza said in Spanish. “The house can be replaced. Our lives can’t.”

He said that he’d returned to his neighborhood Friday morning and, although everything reeked of smoke, the home had survived the night.


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