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‘Everything else can be replaced’: In path of wildfire, residents have frantic moments to evacuate

Gregory Lasavio evacuates the Glenwood Oaks community as the La Tuna fire rages in the Verdugo Mountains.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Chris Hall was spraying his roof with a water hose Saturday morning when two police officers pulled up to his driveway on McGroarty Street in Sunland-Tujunga.

It was time to evacuate.

“Now it’s mandatory,” they told him. “Get your stuff and go.”

Hall said he wanted to stay but didn’t argue. This was the scene for residents around the La Tuna fire, which has burned 5,000 acres and destroyed three homes near the Verdugo Mountains.

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Erratic winds have pushed the fire in different directions, forcing officials to issue evacuation orders in quick order.

More than 700 homes in the area are under evacuation, including 300 in Burbank, 250 in Glendale and 180 in Los Angeles, officials said.

The officers gave Hall 20 minutes to pack, but he said he already was prepared. The night before, he had organized his photos — those of his daughter’s birth, birthdays and visits to the zoo — and important documents, piling them in the trunk of his Nissan Sentra.

“Everything else can be replaced,” he said, sitting behind the wheel of his car and ready to flee.

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Earlier that morning, after seeing flames creep up behind a nearby art center, he dropped his 5-year-old daughter and 12-year-old stepson, along with their pet hamster, at a friend’s home. He left their goldfish behind.

Over the last couple of weeks, as wildfires raged across California, Hall said he spent hours trimming trees and pruning bushes in case a fire erupted nearby.

“We did a lot of cleaning,” he said.

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Music teacher Valerie Keith was 40 minutes into her work day Saturday morning when her Tujunga neighbor called.

“You gotta come home,” the neighbor told her.

Keith already was already on edge. Her dogs and cat were home — alone — as flames crept closer to her house. She rushed back.

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Soon after, police told her she needed to leave.

Keith frantically loaded her pets in her car, along with her two best violins, spilling on her hands the yogurt she had taken for breakfast but hadn’t eaten.

“I thought I was going to be safe today,” she said.

Just about ready to escape, she remembered something. She dashed back inside and grabbed a framed photograph of her mother and a banjo made from a tambourine.

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“When you have to leave for safety, then you suddenly realize what’s important,” she said.

andrea.castillo@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

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