The Sand fire that ravaged more than 41,000 acres has been contained, but the blaze has left a lasting toll on some of Hollywood’s hidden stars: the movie ranches of Santa Clarita Valley.
For more than a half century, the diverse terrain and wide open spaces of Santa Clarita’s movie ranches have made them ideal film locations that can double for the Old West or the Middle East.
Some of those ranches, however, were badly charred by the raging fire.
Steve Arklin Jr. and his crew at Rancho Deluxe worked for three days straight last week, desperately trying to save his family’s 200-acre property off Placerita Canyon Road and the 14 Freeway. He estimated he lost 130 acres of mostly forest to the fire.
“I really thought we were going to lose the whole property,” Arklin said in an interview. “The wind was blowing so strong. The fire was moving so fast through here.”
When he saw the fire approach his property two days after it started, Arklin called in a team of more than 30 employees and colleagues to help spray the property and structures with water and fire retardant. They deployed 15 water trucks and three bulldozers to protect the site, which includes an artificial lake, Mediterranean-style villa, cabins and a western town surrounded by mountains.
Fortunately, their efforts paid off. All of Rancho Deluxe’s structures and equipment were spared.
“We got really lucky,” he said.
Arklin’s father started the movie ranch in the mid-1980s after he sold a sanitation business and bought the 200-acre property. Initially, his goal was to earn enough to pay taxes on the ranch, but it soon became an attractive spot for a number of productions, such as Disney’s “Iron Man 3” and TV series including “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Heroes” and “Sons of Anarchy.” HBO recently filmed scenes of “Westworld” at Rancho Deluxe, said Steve Arklin Jr., who now runs the operation.
As bad as the damage was at Rancho Deluxe, it wasn’t as bad as its neighbor’s.
Most of the 450-acre Sable Ranch was destroyed. All that’s left of the Old West town set is ash. The hillsides are charred, and the stables and water tower are gone.
“It’s devastating,” Kevin Whitney, the ranch manager who has worked there for 13 years, told The Times. “This was my second home.”
Sable is among 10 movie ranches in the Santa Clarita area. They are a key economic driver of film activity in the suburban community, which dubs itself Hollywood North. The Santa Clarita Film Office said filming generated 1,305 production days and had an estimated economic impact of $30.9 million during the last fiscal year.
“The movie ranches are a very significant portion of filming in Santa Clarita,” said Evan Thomason, who oversees the city’s film office. “Film ranches in one shape or another have existed in Santa Clarita since the ‘50s, so they’ve really been part of the fabric of our community.”
Thomason said he expected the ranches would quickly rebound.
“We feel the damage that the ranches did take is fixable and, with the support of the film community which we’ve already seen, we think they’ll be back on their feet in no time,” he said.
Also unscathed was Disney’s historic Golden Oak Ranch, which served as the location for such movies as “Pearl Harbor,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2013 approved plans for a complex with more than 500,000 square feet of studio space, multiple sound stages, writers’ bungalows and a commissary spread over 58 acres at Golden Oak.
A Golden Oak representative said the ranch did not sustain any damage but declined further comment.
Another nearby site, the Polsa Rosa Ranch in Acton, was not so fortunate. Parts of the 730-acre ranch, which borders the Los Angeles National Forest, also was damaged in the fire. Polsa Rosa was used in the production of Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” and “Titanic.”
Owner Margie Vodraska was still trying to assess the damage. Vodraska left for Arizona the day the fire started and waited for updates from her husband and son.
She was thankful when she heard the fire hadn’t destroyed any structures, but lamented the burned acreage.
“You’ve got to remember,” she said, “our business is the land.”
Despite losing half his acreage, Arklin looked on the bright side. His ranch still has some forest backdrops left and remains open for filming, he said.
“Maybe shows will have to film here for something looking like Mars or the moon,” he said. “It’ll be a few years and everything will start to grow back and we’ll start to look somewhat decent again.”