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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press A firefighter sprays water in front of an advancing wildfire Friday in Porter Ranch, Calif.

Saturday, October 12, 2019 1:00 am

California fires force thousands to leave homes

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – An aggressive wildfire in Southern California seared its way through dry vegetation Friday and spread quickly, destroying dozens of homes as tens of thousands of residents scrambled to get out of its way, authorities said.

The blaze broke out Thursday evening in the San Fernando Valley and spread westward, burning its way into hilly subdivisions on Los Angeles' northern edge as terrified residents grabbed what they could and ran. One man went into cardiac arrest and died, authorities said.

The region has been on high alert as notoriously powerful Santa Ana winds brought dry desert air to a desiccated landscape that only needed a spark to erupt.

The Los Angeles fire broke out hours after flaming garbage in a trash truck sparked another blaze when the driver dumped his load to keep the rig from catching fire. But the dry grass quickly ignited and powerful winds blew the flames into a mobile park in Calimesa, about 75 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. About three-quarters of the 110 homes were wiped out and one resident died, fire officials said.

The two fires burned as power was restored to more than half the nearly 2 million residents in the northern part of the state who lost electricity after the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. switched it off Wednesday to prevent a repeat of the past two years when its equipment sparked deadly, destructive wildfires during windy weather.

Officials worried that gusts might topple trees on and blow vegetation into transmission lines and start wildfires, but the move was criticized for targeting areas that faced no danger, and for disrupting so many lives.

On Friday, the outage was blamed for the death of a man dependent on oxygen who died about 12 minutes after the utility pulled the plug, El Dorado County Fire Chief Lloyd Ogan said.

The fire on Los Angeles' northern edge erupted in the neighborhood of Sylmar in a giant plume of red glowing smoke that could be seen for miles. It spread westward at a rate of 800 acres into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, where subdivisions crowd against the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains. Its cause wasn't immediately known, and about 100,000 people in over 20,000 homes were ordered to evacuate, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said.

By Friday, the fire had grown to more than 11 square miles and at least 25 homes had been damaged, Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said.

Terrazas said strong winds and dry weather were contributing to the danger.