Mandatory evacuation orders remained in effect for tens of thousands of California residents overnight Friday into Saturday morning as officials on the ground and in the sky continued to fight several fires sweeping through residential areas in the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a state of emergency Friday at 5 p.m. local time for Los Angeles, Riverside and Ventura counties due to the effects of several fires, including the Saddleridge, Eagle, Sandalwood, Reche, and Wolf fires. The Los Angeles Fire Department said Friday evening the fire was only 13 percent contained. The blaze first erupted around 9 p.m. Thursday along the northern tier of the San Fernando Valley. Notoriously high Santa Ana winds pushed the fire westward through dry brush in hilly subdivisions on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
The cause of the Los Angeles blaze wasn't immediately known, though arson investigators said a witness reported seeing sparks or flames coming from a power line near where the fire is believed to have started, Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, told The Associated Press.
Robert Delgado, who lives in Sylmar, Calif., said he saw flames under a high-voltage electrical transmission tower near his home at around the time the fire broke out.
"We had just finished praying the Rosary, like we do every night," when his wife looked out a window and saw fire at the bottom of the tower, Delgado told KABC-TV.
"We immediately ran downstairs, went to the backyard, pulled out the hoses," he said, but the wind-whipped flames moved with terrifying speed.
"We had just finished praying the Rosary, like we do every night. ... We immediately ran downstairs, went to the backyard, pulled out the hoses."
"There were flames and embers flying over those bushes at the back of our house and over our house," Delgado said. "I was overwhelmed at the sight." He called it a miracle that his home survived.
L.A. police Chief Michel Moore said mandatory evacuations in the area have encompassed about 100,000 people in over 20,000 homes. Fire officials said at least 31 structures have been destroyed in the Saddleridge Fire. A middle-aged man who was near the fire went into cardiac arrest and died after apparently trying to fight the fire himself, authorities said.
Moore added that about 450 police were deployed in the area to prevent looting. Police officials allowed some residents to return to their homes for five minute visits Friday to recover important documents, small pets and other valuable before being escorted back to overcrowded shelters.
"It's not the fire itself but the danger of wind taking an ember, blowing it someplace, and seeing entire neighborhoods overnight get lit," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday.
"It's not the fire itself but the danger of wind taking an ember, blowing it someplace, and seeing entire neighborhoods overnight get lit."
FEMA also accepted Newsom's request for a grant Friday to help local fire officials access resources.
“We are closely monitoring the fires burning across the state and are assisting state and local officials helping the tens of thousands of Californians affected by these fires,” Newsom said in a statement. “California thanks the White House for their timely response to our request, which will ensure the communities grappling with this fire have the vital resources and support they need.”
“California thanks the White House for their timely response to our request, which will ensure the communities grappling with this fire have the vital resources and support they need.”
A local reporter tweeted video early Saturday showing the Saddleridge Fire still burning alongside the highway in Santa Clarita.
Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said he flew over the fire Friday and saw "hundreds, if not thousands of homes" with charred backyards where firefighters had just managed to halt the flames.
Power was restored for nearly 2 million people Friday. Noting high wind conditions, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. switched off electricity Wednesday in an effort to prevent a repeat of the past two years when its power lines were blown into trees, sparking deadly and destructive wildfires outside the nation’s second-largest city.
Southern California Edison said it owns the transmission tower shown on KABC-TV, but a spokeswoman would not confirm that was where the fire began. The utility said it could take a long time to determine the cause and origin of the fire.
Cal Fire officials said one of the several fires burning in Southern California--the Sandlewood Fire--began after a garbage truck dumped burning trash on the side of the road.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.