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Saddleridge fire: No methane leaks from Aliso Canyon gas facility, officials say

Traffic moved slowly Friday as the Saddleridge fire flared up in the hills along the 5 Freeway in the Newhall Pass.
Traffic moved slowly Friday as the Saddleridge fire flared up in the hills along the 5 Freeway in the Newhall Pass.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Tests conducted over the weekend at the Aliso Canyon gas facility showed no detectable levels of methane in the wake of a large wildfire that has charred a 7,900-acre swath in the hills of the northern San Fernando Valley.

Hours after the Saddleridge fire broke out Thursday evening, it made a rapid advance toward the Aliso Canyon gas facility, which four years ago was the site of the largest release of methane in U.S. history. The Porter Ranch facility had been shut down and firefighters were on scene to protect it through the night, officials said.

However, residents remained on edge about whether any damage to the facility would result in additional methane leaks. That doesn’t appear to be the case, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced late Sunday.

The facility did not sustain any major damage and air monitoring conducted by the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Heath Hazardous Materials Division and the Air Quality Management District on Saturday revealed no detectable levels of methane gas. Officials conducted the air quality tests west of the perimeter of the site and throughout the facility, according to the public health agency.

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“We expect to be notified immediately of any conditions or concerns that warrant further action,” the agency wrote in a statement.

The fire got close to the facility Friday morning, prompting its evacuation and a suspension of operations.

The Aliso Canyon gas blowout lasted nearly four months and was blamed for sickening thousands of Los Angeles residents, who moved out of their Porter Ranch homes to escape a sulfurous stench and a medley of maladies including headaches, nausea and nosebleeds. Some Porter Ranch residents say they still are dealing with health effects.

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

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Bolstered by improved weather conditions, firefighters early Monday continued to make progress in their fight against the Saddleridge fire, which days earlier carved a devastating path through San Fernando Valley communities and forced thousands of people from their homes.

Lower wind speeds, increased humidity and cooler temperatures that also helped crews gain an upper hand on the Saddleridge fire over the weekend continued to be beneficial early Monday. Those conditions will enhance firefighters’ ability to mop up remaining hot spots still smoldering after the blaze charred hillsides from Sylmar to Porter Ranch, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said.

The fire was 43% contained as of Monday morning.

The fire, which was fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds, had forced the evacuation of 23,000 homes by early Friday. By Saturday evening, officials had lifted those evacuation orders and people began returning to their homes.

“Tactical patrols will continue throughout the day to ensure containment lines remain static and smoldering debris remains isolated from unburned vegetation,” LAFD spokesman Nicholas Prange said in a news release.

Fifty-eight structures, including dozens of homes, have been destroyed in the blaze and 17 buildings have suffered some amount of damage, officials said.

Three firefighters have been treated for minor injuries received while battling the blaze. Two people have died in the blaze, both after suffering heart attacks. The first was a man in his 50s who went into cardiac arrest early Friday while talking to fire crews. The second was veteran L.A. Park Ranger Capt. Alberto Torres, who suffered a massive heart attack Friday after patrolling the parks affected by the fire. He died the next morning at a hospital, officials said.

Tens of thousands of L.A. residents who fled the Saddleridge fire returned home this weekend as Santa Ana winds died down and cool ocean breezes helped firefighters boost containment.
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L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer paid tribute to Torres, who spent four decades as a park ranger in Los Angeles, on social media over the weekend.

“He was incredibly dedicated to our parks and a wonderful partner to many on our staff. He was always upbeat and always willing to roll up his sleeves and help. What an incredible public service legacy for Los Angeles. We will miss him,” Feuer wrote.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, officials said. However, investigators are looking into reports that flames were spotted coming from a power line as the fire started Thursday night. Sylmar residents told KNBC and KABC that they saw a fire burning at the base of a transmission tower near Saddle Ridge Road, an area investigators are examining as a possible ignition point.

“We are aware of a story out there in the media from a witness who saw fire ... from a transmission tower,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said Friday night. “We believe that witness, and someone else who said something similar.”

Saddle Ridge Road resident Roberto Delgado told The Times he saw an isolated patch of flames near the base of the tower Thursday night and called 911. Several neighbors said they too fled after seeing a wall of flames, but couldn’t identify the source.

The tower belongs to Southern California Edison and was energized Thursday night, said Edison spokeswoman Sally Jeun, who added it was too early to assign responsibility for the fire.

“Determining the cause and origin of the fire is a lengthy process. A priority right now is ensuring the safety of our customers, employees and first responders. SCE will fully cooperate with investigations,” she said Saturday.


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