SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — A raging California wildfire has set more than 33,000 acres of the Santa Clarita Valley ablaze and threatens to ignite thousands of homes as winds push the flames from the forest toward the Antelope Valley, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.
The so-called Sand Fire grew more than 10,000 acres on Sunday alone, and has burned up to 18 homes, Los Angeles County fire Chief John Tripp said at a news conference late Sunday. The fire remains at 10% containment, the U.S. Forest Service said.
Three of the scorched homes belonged to firefighters.
Firefighter Sergio Toscano of the U.S. Forest Service learned his home was torched while battling another fire, CNN affiliate KABC-TV in Los Angeles said.
“We were assigned to a fire at Camp Pendleton, the Roblar Fire, I was getting text and phone calls from back home updating me on the fire that was going on back home,” Toscano told KABC.
Towering columns of smoke could be seen from miles away, signposting the dangers of the Sand Fire, named for the area’s Sand Canyon. The wildfire broke out Friday afternoon and enveloped 33,172 acres by Sunday evening. Ash rained down and red skies became the backdrop for hundreds of mandatory evacuations.
A man’s body was found in a burned-out car near one neighborhood where a home was singed. According to the sheriff’s department, the cause of the man’s death has not been determined, and an investigation is underway.
Also lost to the fire was the Sable Ranch, where many movies and TV shows were shot. Productions that used the ranch included “The A Team,” “Invisible Man” with Chevy Chase, “Terror From Above” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” according to the ranch website.
Burned body found
Firefighters discovered the man’s body in a compact sedan in a home’s driveway as they traveled along Santa Clarita’s Iron Canyon Road on Saturday night.
Detectives were trying to determine whether the man was killed by the blaze or another cause. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, there is no indication his death was a criminal event.
Authorities said the man’s identity is unknown, and his body is with the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
Firefighter loses home
Three U.S. Forest Service firefighters were battling blazes elsewhere as the Sand Fire tore a path of destruction through forests, neighborhoods and homes.
When Toscano heard his home had burned to the ground, he was pulled from the Roblar Fire and reassigned to the Sand Fire.
“I’m still at work and trying to get a hold of this fire (the Sand Fire), trying to protect the other structures that are around the area,” Toscano told KABC.
A GoFundMe account was set up to support Toscano, a Marine veteran, who will share the donations with two other firefighters who lost their homes.
Fighting in rugged terrain
Helicopters circled the blaze, dousing flames with water.
Cal Fire helicopters flew back and forth between the ocean, where they collected water, and the Santa Clarita area, where they dumped the water on the fire lines.
On the ground, 900 firefighters battled the flames and the area’s rugged terrain, with its steep hillsides and treacherous ravines.
Fire crews attempted to dig lines to halt the fast-moving fire, but the mountainous area proved problematic, according to Nathan Judy, fire information officer with the Angeles National Forest.
The blaze has largely burned in unpopulated forest areas. But winds shifted, driving the flames toward hundreds of homes in the Sand Canyon neighborhood, Judy said.
The Santa Clarita area is under a “red flag warning” from the National Weather Service, meaning weather conditions and dry vegetation have combined for “extreme fire danger and/or fire behavior.”
Another fire near Big Sur
As winds fanned the flames of the Santa Clarita blaze, another fire to the north had also grown to 2,000 acres, forcing residents there to flee.
Ellen Masten was one of the longtime residents forced out in the Soberanes Fire along the California coast between Carmel and Big Sur.
“The first thing you think is, ‘What’s important?’ ” she said. “What should you take, what can’t you live without? You look around the house and you say, as much as you love those beautiful plates and those things on the wall, what’s really the most valuable thing? I grabbed all the pictures of the kids, and then I took the paintings of my parents that had been done by a local artist.”
Authorities issued a voluntary evacuation notice Saturday for the Carmel Highlands area. Mandatory evacuations were also ordered for the Palo Colorado neighborhood of northern Big Sur.