California

Where wildfires are burning: Death toll at 3 from Southern California blazes as winds calm

Updated: 1 p.m. Sunday

Santa Ana winds that drove fires through two Southern California areas have died down, but flames that destroyed dozens of homes and killed three people continue to rage.

A blaze in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles was only 41% contained Sunday after destroying at least 21 structures. One man who tried to fight the blaze died of a heart attack.

The fast-moving fire kept tens of thousands of people from returning to their homes, but evacuations have since been lifted.

The fire broke out Thursday, just hours after flaming garbage in a trash truck sparked another wind-whipped blaze that ravaged a mobile park in Calimesa, east of downtown Los Angeles.

A second body was found at a mobile home park where 74 structures were destroyed Thursday in Calimesa after officials previously reported one death at the community east of Los Angeles.

Here are wildfires that have burned in California this week, as of 1 p.m. Sunday:

Saddleridge Fire

Where: Near Sylmar, Los Angeles County

Size: 7,965 acres

Status: 41% containment; evacuations lifted

Injuries: 3 firefighters

Deaths: 1 civilian

Containment is inching up on a smoky Los Angeles wildfire that damaged or destroyed more than 30 structures, as crews take advantage of calmer winds and cooler temperatures.

Officials say the blaze in the San Fernando Valley hasn’t grown significantly since Friday. It was 41% contained as of Sunday morning.

One man who tried to fight the blaze died of a heart attack, and three firefighters suffered minor injuries. At least one commercial building and several homes were destroyed in the fire.

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said the bulk of the fire had moved away from homes and into rugged hillsides and canyons where firefighters were making steady progress slowing its advance. Television footage showed plumes of smoke rising from the area but no walls of towering flame, as a water-dropping helicopter moved in to dump another cascade on the blaze.

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Eyed Jarjour comforts a neighbor who lost his Jolette Ave. home to the Saddleridge Fire on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Granada Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) Noah Berger AP

Some 100,000 residents were ordered out of their homes because of the wind-driven wildfire that broke out Thursday evening in the San Fernando Valley. It spread westward through tinder-dry brush in hilly subdivisions on the outskirts of the nation’s second-largest city. All evacuation orders were lifted as of 4:45 p.m. on Saturday.

Air quality is poor as smoke from the fire settles over much of greater Los Angeles.

At over 7,900 acres, the blaze is the second biggest wildfire of 2019, behind only the 14,217-acre Tucker Fire.

The cause of the 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, said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Saddleridge Fire in Los Angeles County

Red circles on this live-updating map are actively burning areas, as detected by satellite. Orange circles have burned in the past 12 to 24 hours, and yellow circles have burned within the past 48 hours. Yellow areas represent the fire perimeter.
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

Caples Fire

Where: Eldorado National Forest, El Dorado County

Size: 2,885 acres

Status: 35% contained

Favorable conditions helped crews fighting what began as a prescribed burn nearly two weeks ago, the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release Saturday morning. The fire is burning 3 miles west of the Kirkwood resort areas and 15 miles south of South Lake Tahoe.

“Fire is still within the project boundaries. Overall fire was quiet last night,” officials from the Eldorado National Forest said Saturday morning. “Some activity in the southwest corner and northeast end and interior consumption of unburned islands.”

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Smoke is seen rising from the Caples Fire in the Eldorado National Forest in El Dorado County on Oct. 9, 2019. The Caples Fire started as a prescribed burn Sept. 30 to reduce fuel and create defensible space. But when winds changed, rapidly pushing flames south and west, officials declared it a wildfire to obtain additional fire fighting resources. U.S. Forest Service

The prescribed burn operation began Sept. 30 following rain and snowstorms, part of a “multiyear forest restoration project” to reintroduce fire to the forest in an effort to make it more healthy and resilient, the U.S. Forest Service said. Strong winds that were forecast for days arrived on Wednesday and pushed the fire beyond the prescribed areas, officials said.

By declaring it a wildfire, federal officials were able to get resources from Cal Fire and other agencies to fight the blaze.

Smoke from the fire has drifted into the Sacramento region, prompting officials to issue a Spare the Air advisory.

Caples Fire in El Dorado County

Red circles on this live-updating map are actively burning areas, as detected by satellite. Orange circles have burned in the past 12 to 24 hours, and yellow circles have burned within the past 48 hours. Yellow areas represent the fire perimeter.
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

Merrill Fire

Where: Moraga, Contra Costa County

Size: 40 acres

Status: Contained

The fast-spreading wildfire broke out shortly after 1 a.m. in the Contra Costa County town of Moraga, prompting evacuation orders in the middle of the night for dozens of homes, but firefighters halted forward progress on the fire at about 3:30 a.m. and the evacuation orders were lifted, according to the Merrill-Orinda Fire Department and the Cal Fire Santa Clara Unit. The fire ignited near Merrill Drive and Mulholland Circle in Moraga. Videos of the blaze posted to social media showed flames lighting up the hills around Moraga’s Sandy Ranch neighborhood.

Briceburg Fire

Where: Mariposa County

Size: 5,563 acres

Status: 70% contained, evacuations lifted

A wildfire burning since last week in Mariposa County remained at more than 5,000 acres as of Sunday morning, according to Cal Fire, with little development overnight.

Briceburg Fire in Mariposa County

Red circles on this live-updating map are actively burning areas, as detected by satellite. Orange circles have burned in the past 12 to 24 hours, and yellow circles have burned within the past 48 hours. Yellow areas represent the fire perimeter.
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

The Briceburg fire is burning near the entrance to Yosemite National Park, which remained open. All mandatory evacuation orders were lifted at 1 p.m. Friday, but Highway 140 from 15 miles east of Mariposa to Savages Trading Post remains closed. Buffalo Gulch Road is open to residents only, Cal Fire said.

One structure has been destroyed by the fire.

“Minimal fire activity was reported throughout the day,” Cal Fire’s incident page reported. “Firefighters will continue to secure and enforce containment lines and mop-up 200 feet in to secure containment lines ... Fire suppression repair has begun.”

Sandalwood Fire

Where: Riverside County

Size: 1,011 acres

Status: 77% contained

Deaths: 2

The Sandalwood Fire ignited Thursday when a trash truck’s load of burning trash spread to vegetation, Cal Fire said. The fire destroyed at least 74 structures, damaged 16 structures and killed two people as it burned burned through a mobile home park in Calimesa.

Family members of Lois Arvickson confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that the 89-year-old died in the fire at the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park.

Arvickson called her son from her cellphone to say she was evacuating shortly after the blaze was reported in the Calimesa area. Don Turner says his mother said she was getting her purse and getting out. But then the line went dead.

An evacuation order remained in place Sunday morning for the mobile home park.

Sandlewood and Reche fires, Riverside County

Red circles on this live-updating map are actively burning areas, as detected by satellite. Orange circles have burned in the past 12 to 24 hours, and yellow circles have burned within the past 48 hours. Yellow areas represent the fire perimeter.
Source: National Interagency Fire Center

Wolf Fire

Where: Riverside County

Size: 75 acres

Status: Contained

The Wolf Fire was burning in Riverside County along with the Sandalwood Fire and Reche Fire. It was ignited Thursday at 5:08 p.m. Evacuation warnings were issued for South Highland Springs, south of Interstate 10 and west of South Highland Home Road, including the Sun Lakes and Four Seasons communities.

The fire reached full containment at 5:26 p.m. on Saturday.

Reche Fire

Where: Riverside County

Size: 350 acres

Status: Contained

The Reche Fire began Thursday at 12:54 p.m. when firefighters responded to a trailer fire that spread to vegetation, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. Evacuation orders have been lifted and firefighters continue to work to strengthen containment lines.

One structure was damaged and one was destroyed as of Sunday morning.

Bitter Fire

Where: San Luis Obispo County

Size: 30 acres

Status: Contained

The Bitter Fire started Friday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. off of Highway 46 and Bitterwater Road in San Luis Obispo. A fire with the same name that started on the same road occurred in July 2019. That fire burned 120 acres before being contained. The fire was declared fully contained and extinguished just before 4:30 p.m. Friday.

This report was compiled by The Bee’s Daniel Hunt, Mack Ervin III, Michael McGough and Vincent Moleski. The Bee’s Molly Sullivan and the Associated Press’ Christopher Weber, Michael R. Blood, Stephanie Dazio and Brian Melley contributed to this report.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.
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