Tens of thousands of Los Angeles residents who evacuated from the path of the Saddleridge fire returned home late Saturday and early Sunday, days after the wind-driven blaze tore through the hills at the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley.
Fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds, the blaze chewed through more than 7,900 acres in two days, driving residents from their homes as it made its way from Sylmar to Porter Ranch. At its peak, the blaze burned through roughly 800 acres an hour.
As the Santa Ana winds died down Saturday night, they were replaced by cool ocean breezes with more moisture, helping to boost containment of the fire from 33% to 41% by early Sunday, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Nicholas Prange.
“That gave firefighters a chance to gain on the fire a little bit,” Prange said.
A Porter Ranch resident in his 50s died during the fire after suffering a heart attack early Friday, authorities said. Neighbors told KTLA-TV Channel 5 that Aiman Elsabbagh, 54, had been using a garden hose to keep flames away from his Thunderbird Avenue home.
Albert Torres, a captain and 40-year employee with the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks, was patrolling San Fernando Valley parks affected by the fire Friday when he collapsed, according to KCBS-TV Channel 2. He died of a heart attack in a hospital Saturday morning.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell knew Torres for 17 years.
“My team and I are in shock,” O’Farrell said. “He was a genuine and loving man who cared about his city and his work.”
Three firefighters were injured battling the fire; all sustained minor injuries, officials said.
The sprawling fire destroyed 21 structures, including 16 single-family homes and two apartment buildings, the Fire Department said. The fire damaged 11 other buildings, including nine homes.
A more detailed damage assessment will be conducted when containment on the Saddleridge fire increases, Prange said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Prange said. But two Sylmar residents said they saw flames burning near the base of an electrical transmission tower on the steep hill behind their Saddle Ridge Road home Thursday night when the fire ignited.
On Wednesday, Southern California Edison began turning off power to thousands of customers as a precaution because high winds could topple or damage power lines, sparking fires. But the Sylmar area where the fire started was not included in the shutdown.
A spokeswoman for Edison said it was too early to determine what caused the fire.
Meanwhile, the fast-moving Sandalwood fire in Riverside County, sparked by burning trash dumped on the side of a highway, reached 77% containment Sunday morning. The fire swept through a Calimesa mobile home park last week, killing two people, including an 89-year-old woman.
Several other fires continued to burn in remote, rugged areas of California, far from major population centers.
In the central Sierra, a prescribed burn in the Eldorado National Forest that began Sept. 30 has been declared a wildfire, the U.S. Forest Service said. The Caples fire is 35% contained and has burned 2,885 acres, driven by winds that changed direction and increased the fire’s size.
Although the blaze is now a wildfire, it can still meet the prescribed burn’s initial goals of clearing brush and reducing the intensity of future blazes, officials said. The Forest Service said naturally occurring wildfires had been suppressed in the area since 1908.
Farther south in the Sierra Nevada, a fire started by lightning has burned more than 10,000 acres in the John Muir Wilderness and is 75% contained. The western flank of the Taboose fire is burning in rocky and inaccessible terrain, where it will be extinguished by rain, snow or rocky areas, firefighting officials said.
Near Yosemite National Park, the Briceburg fire has reached 63% containment. The Mariposa County fire, which should be fully contained in a week, has destroyed about 5,500 acres, officials said.
In Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the largest national forest in California, firefighters reached 100% containment on the South fire, which was sparked by a lightning strike Sept. 5.
A brush fire that broke out south of the 101 Freeway in Ventura County on Thursday night has reached 80% containment. The Wendy fire, burning in the Santa Monica Mountains, has charred 91 acres of land but no buildings.
Times staff writer Thomas Curwen contributed to this story.