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Tick fire: Residents tally losses as firefighters battle flames and high winds

Mary Lindsey isn’t sure what awakened her in the middle of the night.

Maybe it was the hum of helicopters, she said, or perhaps just the providence of God. The power in her neighborhood on the eastern edge of Santa Clarita had been shut off since 11 a.m. Thursday, but at 2:30 a.m. Friday she noticed light filtering in through the bedroom curtains.

“That’s not right,” she thought, grabbing a flashlight. Outside, a sheriff’s deputy cruising by noticed her light in the window and flicked on his sirens. The deputy ran toward her home, banging on the door.

“It’s a mandatory evacuation!” he shouted. “Have you gotten any alerts?”

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“No,” she said, looking up the street. “All of these houses have people in them.”

“Oh, my God,” the deputy said.

Because the power was out and it was pitch-black on her street, Lindsey, 64, said, she thinks the authorities may have thought everyone had already left the area. Lindsey and her husband, Charles, had been ready to go for hours, but no warning ever came — no Amber Alert-style message, no phone call, no patrol cars with bullhorns.

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“Nothing,” she said, sighing.

Lindsey and her husband were among 40,000 people who were evacuated as firefighters continued to battle the raging, wind-driven Tick fire Friday.

The fire broke out shortly before 1:45 p.m. Thursday along Tick Canyon Road.

The winds picked up in the wee hours of Friday morning, causing the fire to breach the 14 Freeway between Sand Canyon and Agua Dulce, burning an additional 700 to 800 acres.

“That was not expected,” said Deputy Fire Chief Vince Pena. “We’ve been working on that all morning and through the day.”

Northern California braced for a weekend in uncharted territory as PG&E prepared to shut off power to more than 2 million people as the region faced one of the worst periods of fire weather in a generation.

As of Friday evening the Tick fire had consumed more than 4,000 acres and was only 10% contained, fire officials said. At least six structures were destroyed and seven damaged.

Roughly 1,300 firefighters were on the scene Friday attempting to defend homes and build containment lines around the blaze amid challenging red-flag conditions that were expected to linger late into the night.

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Some residents of the Santa Clarita Valley were allowed to go back to their homes as of Friday evening. However, large swaths remained under evacuation orders.

“We hope to let more folks in their homes tomorrow, but right now we are still concerned about the winds,” Pena said. “We want to keep this fire out of the Angeles National Forest and ensure the stability of all the housing communities in Santa Clarita.”

Marsha McLean, mayor of Santa Clarita, hailed the firefighters’ work.

“It was nothing short of a miracle that the fire department has been able to contain the fire as well as they have with these winds,” she said.

Severe fire and wind conditions prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency for Los Angeles and for Sonoma County, which is grappling with the massive Kincade fire. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn also declared a local emergency for the county Friday.

Those winds are expected to die down considerably by Saturday. The National Weather Service is predicting wind speeds of up to 20 mph in Santa Clarita on Saturday, with a high of 89 degrees.

Temperatures are expected to cool down through the beginning next week, but the National Weather Service said more Santa Ana high wind events are expected in both LA and Ventura counties with gusts of 35-50 mph late Sunday night and Monday, and more potential strong winds coming Wednesday into Thursday.

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Tick Fire evacuation zones as of Friday morning
Evacuation orders for the Tick fire are in effect for homes in Sand Canyon and south of the 14 Freeway, east of Sand Canyon Road, north of Placerita Canyon Road and west of Agua Dulce Canyon Road.
(Chris Keller / Los Angeles Times)

There are signs of the Tick fire all across the Santa Clarita Valley.

A trailer full of evacuated llamas sat in a Target parking lot, and several restaurants were transformed into unofficial shelters. At a Santa Clarita Starbucks on Friday morning, a woman rested her head on a wooden table, and a man whose electricity had been cut off watched a livestream of the fire from a TV news chopper on his phone.

Five miles away, on the other side of the 5 Freeway, evacuees were starting to trickle into West Ranch High School, where the Red Cross had set up a shelter.

Leticia Fetterly and her 19-year-old daughter, Danielle, sat on cots facing each other and recounted the past 24 hours. Sometime around 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Fetterly yelled into the bathroom of her Canyon Country home.

“Danielle,” she said, “you might want to take a really quick shower. I think we need to evacuate.”

A pillar of pitch-black smoke rose a few miles away, and once they spotted a water drop nearby, they knew it was time to leave. Fetterly packed up her mortgage papers and the negatives of photos she’d taken of her three children over the years. Her daughter, a college student, grabbed her Polaroids, some schoolwork and her laptop.

Fetterly said she’d evacuated once before, about a decade ago, but this time felt more urgent. Some of her neighbors thought she was overreacting Thursday, she said, but her mind was racing with thoughts of the 85 people who died last year in the Camp fire, the deadliest blaze in California history.

“Don’t they remember Paradise?” Fetterly asked.

For her part, she couldn’t stop thinking about the victims and their last few seconds — that moment, she said, when they realized it was too late. Her daughter, who was sitting cross-legged on her cot, rubbed her hands on a U-shaped travel pillow resting in her lap and winced.

“I’ve been really worried,” she said, adding that she’d had a bad feeling in her stomach since Wednesday night, when she’d noticed an all-too-familiar combination of heat and strong winds.

In the Sierra Hills neighborhood, residents watched late Thursday evening as firefighters from the Santa Monica Fire Department hosed down the garden of a home. Flames that sprang from windblown embers burned down a greenhouse and play area of the home near a hillside that surrounds the cul-de-sac on Kenroy Avenue. Neighbors gathered on the street keeping an eye out for any flare-ups on the hillside, passing the time with cups of wine and beer.

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At the Sierra Heights mobile home park, many residents appeared to have evacuated. Wind chimes and crackling fire nearby pierced the silence as flames glowed on the hills to the east and in the canyons below.

On a hilltop less than a quarter-mile to the southwest, the remnants of one residence were still burning early Friday morning. A white sign at the home’s entryway reading “La Granja” (The Farm) had fallen from its post. It appeared the fire had come quickly, forcing the home’s occupants to rush to safety. Two bags of clothing were left in the driveway, still in perfect condition.

Those who fled from their homes in the early morning hours Friday described a scene of chaos as authorities charged into their neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Santa Clarita to rouse them as the fire roared closer.

Before 6 a.m. Friday, the parking lot at the College of the Canyons campus in Valencia, where another shelter had been established, was packed with cars and RVs. It was dark and quiet, except for the sound of cats whining from their cages. Some evacuees slept in their cars; others stared into the glow of their cellphones, desperate for updates.

Lee Mentzer, 78, stood in the parking lot with his grandson. They both felt like they were in a daze.

“We live in Canyon Country,” Mentzer said, closing his eyes. “Hopefully we still live there.”

Times staff writers Emily Baumgaertner and Leila Miller contributed to this report.


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