Fuller picture comes to light of man who died in Sand fire

One of the two homes destroyed on North Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, where one person died when the Sand fire swept through.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Robert Bresnick got into his car and began to make his way down a driveway, the flames of the Sand fire bearing down on him.

Moments before, a fire captain with a crew yelled for the 67-year-old to come toward him, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Joe Mendoza.

“Mr. Bresnick yelled something back which they couldn’t hear,” he said. “Then he walked away out of view.”


Inside his car, Bresnick apparently was overtaken Saturday by the fire, becoming the only known casualty of the largest fire in the county this year.

Firefighters were able to rescue Bresnick’s longtime companion, Donna Fink, 73, from the property in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita and take her to safety when the fire swept through, Mendoza said.

Authorities said Bresnick and Fink had been keeping an eye on the fire, which has now burned more than 38,000 acres and destroyed at least 18 homes. The blaze is 40% contained.

Fink told investigators that Bresnick had gone to get the car while she went to get their pets, Mendoza said.

“Their initial plan was that they were going to load up in the car and come down the hill,” Mendoza said. “However, that fire overtook that place in minutes. ... It was just too dangerous up there.”

Fink was rescued about 5:30 p.m. by firefighters near the front of her home, Mendoza said.

Around the same time, another fire crew on the other side of the property, toward the rear of the house, spotted Bresnick, with the fire captain calling for Bresnick, Mendoza said.


Bresnick entered his vehicle and began to make his way down a long driveway. But he didn’t make it far.

“According to Donna, it could have been that he was waiting to see if she’s coming, then the fire started coming over and that’s when he decided to go, not knowing that that fire was going to run through so fast and take over that road,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said that there was a propane tank on the property and that fire investigators believe it caused the fire to accelerate although it did not explode.

“That definitely I think was a contributing factor to that fire overtaking that road because you have a lot of fuel in a small amount of space,” he said.

Immediately after Bresnick’s death, stories swirled among residents on the street that Bresnick had stayed behind to rescue the pets.

However, the narrative Fink gave investigators echoed the one she shared with neighbor Sterling Nelson, who has lived in a home next door for about three years.


“They were just a really wonderful, sweet couple,” Nelson said. “It’s just a tragedy that this happened.”

Nelson said the dogs the two owned were the couple’s babies and that they “just adored them.” He said Bresnick, who he called ‘Bob,’ was a “peace-loving man, who enjoyed being out in nature.”

“They were a great couple that complemented each other really well,” he said. “There’s not words that can describe how devastated she is.”

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