A rapidly growing wildfire in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest above Sylmar and Lake View Terrace has jumped the 210 Freeway on its way to destroying 30 homes, injuring two firefighters and scorching 11,000 acres Tuesday, authorities said.
Driven by powerful Santa Ana winds, the Creek fire broke out off Little Tujunga Canyon Road about 4 a.m. and threatened homes on both sides of the 210 Freeway.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a state of emergency for the city and said 110,000 to 150,000 people were evacuated from the area as Santa Ana winds drove flames down into the San Fernando Valley.
“We want to be really clear with folks. We have lost structures — we have not lost lives. Do not wait, leave your homes,” Garcetti said. “We are erring on a side of abundance of caution for those evacuations because this wind could pick up and go a different direction. We simply don’t know what this fire will do.”
The California Highway Patrol closed the freeway in both directions between the 5 and 2 freeways before noon, and officials said it may not reopen until Wednesday morning. More than a dozen area schools were also expected to be closed, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said.
The blaze was 0% contained Tuesday, and more than 20 square miles of residential property had been evacuated. The fire jumped the 210 Freeway and burned in Shadow Hills, where residents scrambled to evacuate hundreds of horses, packs of alpacas and other four-legged animals. About 20 of the 30 homes burned were in Little Tujunga, Kagel and Lopez canyons, officials said.
Judy Hofman-Sanders, 63, stood in front of her home in the 9900 block of McBroom Street in Shadow Hills south of the 210 Freeway on Tuesday afternoon as it was engulfed in flames.
She said she was in shock and struggled to describe what she was feeling. She and her husband were dropping off belongings where they planned to stay for the night when their home for the last 10 years started to burn.
“The fire was in Sylmar, 15 miles away,” Hofman-Sanders said. “We came over to get another load, and within half an hour, the wind…. It’s like Armageddon.”
Elsewhere at the blaze, a firefighter was injured and was listed in stable condition after a bulldozer he was operating rolled over. A second firefighter was burned when a propane tank exploded, Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said.
“Our people are working hard. They know our mission to protect life and property is critical,” Terrazas said.
At a morning briefing, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said the conditions were challenging for crews.
Behind him, trees swayed as the winds whipped across the landscape.
“We’re in an extreme firefight,” the chief said. “We had a very warm, dry summer, our fuels are at critical levels, and they’re very explosive, as you can see right now.”
There are more than 800 firefighters battling the blaze and more than 50 fire engines within Sylmar’s neighborhoods, officials said. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told residents that if they’re in the evacuation zone, they need to leave.
“This will not be the only fire,” Beck said. “We’re going to be hard-pressed to meet all the resources throughout the city and the county of Los Angeles due to this weather event, and if you stay in your homes, you cause our resources to be diverted to take care of you.”
The department was on a citywide tactical alert to ensure full staffing because of the fire, officials said.
A neighbor woke Wood Grigsby up about 4 a.m. Tuesday. Grigsby has lived in upper Kagel Canyon for 12 years.
“I came outside, and we were surrounded pretty much on all sides by fire,” Grigsby said.
He said his house is well-defended against fire — he clears the brush, has gravel and there isn’t much to burn close to him. But he and his son did take furniture in from the porch and grabbed shovels to put out little fires burning in the grass and fields of his neighbor’s house.
His neighbor’s house, about 180 feet up the mountain from him, burned, which worried him.
“By the time the Fire Department got there, it was completely engulfed in flames,” he said. “The wind would change ... and when it did that, it would blow up a bunch of embers into the air. It’s very dramatic looking in the dark to see those embers coming by in a tornado-like fashion and just dropping all over my property.”
He and his son stayed outside for about three hours putting out the embers to make sure they didn’t start fires on his property or neighbors’ lots.
“The Fire Department was just stretched so thin. When you get a big fire going like this, there’s only so much we can do. So my son and I were out there with our little shovels, helping as much as we could.”
Grigsby said he was unaware of any mandatory evacuations. The Fire Department checked in on them, he said, and they just told him to be careful.
About five miles from the incident’s command post, evacuated families took shelter at the Sylmar Recreation Center. There were 30 to 50 people there before noon.
Scott Wells sat with his wife and son in the center’s gym between the basketball hoops, waiting to learn when he might be able to go home. When Wells woke up in the predawn hours in his home in upper Kagel Canyon, he smelled the smoke.
When he looked outside, there was brush burning all around. He woke his wife, Patricia Beckmann Wells, and the two began putting out spot fires.
“It was pretty scary,” Wells said. “It was all around us.”
When their 5-year-old son, Petey, woke up and smelled smoke, “he got a little freaked out,” Wells said. “But we talked him down.… And then he was fine.”
The Fire Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department later came and asked them to evacuate. “There were houses on fire,” Wells said.
He said they’ve been monitoring a Facebook group for the canyon, and they’ve been told their house is fine. He said there are at least two houses they know that are gone and they’ve heard of more.
The Santa Ana winds are expected to linger through at least Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
The blaze comes as other firefighters are dealing with a fast-moving, wind-driven wildfire that has swept into the city of Ventura, burned 50,000 acres, destroyed homes and forced 27,000 people to evacuate. About 150 structures — including at least one large apartment complex — were consumed by flames, and many more were threatened as the fire crept about a quarter-mile from Ventura City Hall.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District cautioned residents in the San Fernando Valley and northwest coastal areas of L.A. County to stay indoors and avoid areas with visible smoke because of unhealthy air quality.
“It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask all individuals to be aware of their immediate environment and to take actions to safeguard their health,” Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, interim health officer for Los Angeles County, said in a statement. “Smoke and ash can be harmful to health, especially in vulnerable individuals, like the elderly, people with asthma or individuals with other respiratory and heart conditions.”