“Starting Earlier and Burning Longer” — the New State of Wildfires in the West

SANTA CLARITA (CNS) — With the majority of evacuated residents back home, fire crews were working to add to their hard-fought progress against the deadly Sand Fire in the Santa Clarita area.

About 3,000 firefighters were on the lines Wednesday, July 27, working to knock down the blaze which began July 22 near Sand Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, along the northbound Antelope Valley (14) Freeway.

National Weather Service data indicate humidity in the Acton area was 30 to 35 percent overnight, which could benefit firefighters.

As of Wednesday morning, the fire had scorched 38,346 acres and was 40 percent contained, fire officials said.

Eighteen homes were destroyed, one structure was damaged, the fire destroyed a western town set on the Sable Ranch — a well-known filming location — two firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the flames, and one man was killed when he reportedly refused order to evacuate.

Although an estimated 20,000 people were evacuated as the fire raged, most evacuation orders were lifted at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 25. The orders remain in effect for residents of Little Tujunga Road from the Wildlife Waystation to Sand Canyon Road and Placerita Canyon Road, according to officials at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Only residents are allowed back into the areas where evacuations were lifted, so people are asked to show identification.

Sheriff’s officials also warned people not to fly drones in the firezone, noting incursions of drones into the fire zone occurred over the weekend — forcing a halt to aerial firefighting efforts until the air space was cleared. Deputies were trying to locate and stop the intrusions.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby, appearing before the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, July 26, said fire crews have managed  to save “thousands of structures.”

Osby said crews are still seeing “erratic fire behavior” and winds, but he said the vegetation fueling the fire was lighter as the blaze moved toward the Agua Dulce area, making it easier for crews to work with hand tools in the area and extend containment lines.

The Board of Supervisors ratified a local emergency declaration that was

issued by the county on Monday. The declaration is the first step in acquiring state funding to help fire-recovery efforts. Hours after the board’s vote on Tuesday, acting Gov. Tom Torlakson officially declared a state of emergency to free up state resources.

Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, is acting governor while Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials are attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The Board of Supervisors also called for a report on the county’s aerial firefighting fleet, including a discussion on whether it should purchase or secure a year-round lease on additional aircraft, including possibly a SuperScooper.

The county leases SuperScooper aircraft from Canada during fire season, but they are not expected to arrive in the area until September. Supervisor Michael Antonovich said the LACFD will receive an S-64F Helitanker HT-731 on Aug. 1, two weeks earlier than expected.

The coroner’s office identified the man whose burned body was found in a car in the driveway of a house in the burn area — and who apparently refused orders to evacuate. The body of Robert Bresnick, 67, was discovered at 7:20 p.m. on July 23 in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road, said coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

“Evidently, he did not want to evacuate,” Winter said.

Following an autopsy, the cause of death was listed as the “consequences of extensive thermal burns,” and the death was classified as an accident, Winter said.

Winter said Bresnick, whose home town was not known, was visiting a friend at the location, and had been advised by authorities to leave. The friend left, but Bresnick did not, Winter said.

Three firefighters lost their homes in the fire. Two of them were initially battling the Sand Fire, and one lost his home while he was in San Diego County battling a blaze at Camp Pendleton.

With most evacuations lifted, an evacuation center at the Lakeview Terrace Recreation Center at 11075 Foothill Drive in Sylmar was closed. Two others — at Highland High School at 39055 25th Street West in Palmdale and at Hart High School at 24825 Newhall Ave. in Santa Clarita — remained open, the

Red Cross announced.

The blaze has been fueled by triple-digit temperatures along with gusty winds and vegetation left dry thanks to the region’s five-year drought.

Officials said some areas affected have not burned in decades, leaving terrain covered with dry chaparral that pushed the fire forward like a freight train.

The Escondido and Soledad Canyon Road exits of the northbound Antelope Valley Freeway remained closed.

Sand Canyon Road was closed south of Placerita Canyon Road. Agua Dulce Canyon Road was closed to all nonresidents at the 14 Freeway, and closed to everyone at Soledad Canyon Road. Little Tujunga Canyon Road was closed north of the Wildlife Waystation. In Acton, Soledad Canyon Road was closed at Bootlegger Road.

Metrolink announced Wednesday that due to fire conditions adjacent to the railroad tracks in Santa Clarita, the agency cannot operate trains on the entire Antelope Valley line Wednesday or today, July 28. Train service was operating between Via Princessa and downtown L.A.’s Union Station, and Metrolink officials said they have secured buses to take passengers to and from the Vincent Grade/Acton, Palmdale and Lancaster stations.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District extended a smoke advisory until midnight Thursday for portions of the Santa Clarita Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains. Air quality could reach unhealthy levels, or higher, in areas directly impacted by smoke, the agency said. Residents in those areas are advised to stay indoors, and to avoid using swamp coolers or wood-burning appliances.

The public can follow the latest announcements about the fire online at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4878/.