Schools reopen as firefighters make progress on Saddleridge Fire

Data pix.

PORTER RANCH, Calif. -- Aided by more favorable weather conditions Sunday, firefighters gained the upper hand over the 7,965-acre Saddleridge Fire in the Northern San Fernando Valley, where the last evacuation orders have been lifted after some 100,000 people were forced to leave their homes.

Additionally, all Los Angeles Unified School District schools previously closed by the fire will resume regular class schedules Monday morning, said LAUSD spokeswoman Barbara Jones.

Cal State Northridge will also resume full operations and class schedules Monday, said CSUN spokesman Carmen Ramos Chandler. So too, will Los Angeles Mission, Pierce and Valley colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District, said LACCD spokesman William Boyer.

The annual Oktoberfest celebration at Mission College has, however, been rescheduled for Saturday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets purchased for the Oct. 12 date will be honored.

At last report, the blaze was 42% contained and had damaged or destroyed 40 structures in the areas of Sylmar, Granada Hills and Porter Ranch. A total of 23 structures were destroyed, including 17 single-family residences, two multi-family residences, one commercial property and two minor structures. Eleven structures were damaged, including nine homes, one multi-family residence and one minor structure, fire officials said.

A 54-year-old man identified by KTLA5 as Aiman Elsabbagh died of a heart attack Friday morning in the Porter Ranch area while trying to protect his home from the fire. Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said Elsabbagh was speaking to firefighters when he went into cardiac arrest, and he died at a hospital. According to reports from the scene, the father of two had been dousing the flames with his garden hose when he had the heart attack.

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, including one eye injury, according to the LAFD.

Humidity levels increased to 20-25% by Saturday night and the winds died down to 3-5 miles per hour, National Weather Service Meteorologist Kristen Stewart said. Sunday's humidity was up to 30% in the San Fernando Valley, and winds were expected to be 10 to 20 mph in the evening, according to the NWS.

Regulators said air quality would continue to be unhealthy through at least Monday for sensitive individuals in the San Fernando, Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel Valleys. People who can smell smoke or see ash are advised to remain indoors with windows and doors closed, and to keep pets inside.

Saturday evening, Caltrans re-opened the southbound Interstate 5 truck route, the southbound State Route 14 to the southbound I-5 truck route and the northbound I-5 to the northbound SR-14 truck route.

The massive fire had prompted a mandatory evacuation order for all residents of Porter Ranch north of State Route 118 from Reseda Boulevard to DeSoto Avenue, residents of Granada Hills from Balboa Boulevard and north of Sesnon Boulevard to the Ventura County border, and the Oakridge Estates community north of Interstate 210 in Sylmar. In all, it affected roughly 23,000 homes -- equating to about 100,000 people, authorities said. All evacuation orders were lifted Saturday evening.

As of 1:45 p.m. Sunday, all evacuation centers were closed, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Roughly 1,000 firefighters from LAFD, Los Angeles County Fire Department and Angeles National Forest were on the ground battling the flames over the weekend, aided by water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropping fire retardant.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who cut short a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark due to the fire, and county Board of Supervisors chair Janice Hahn both signed local emergency declarations.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Riverside counties. The declarations free up local and state resources to aid in the firefighting effort.

There was no immediate word on what sparked the blaze.

Various media reports cited a witness claiming the first flames erupted at the base of a Southern California Edison transmission tower along Saddle Ridge Road. Terrazas said he was aware of the reports "of a witness seeing fire fall from a transmission tower," but there still had not been any determination of the cause.

The fire was first reported just after 9 p.m. Thursday off the westbound  I-210 near Yarnell Street and Saddle Ridge Road in Sylmar, and quickly spread due to wind-blown embers that jumped I-5 about 11:20 p.m., spreading the flames into Granada Hills and Porter Ranch.

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