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UPDATED: La Canada fire spreads close to SCV in National Forest

'Station Fire,' other blazes burn, choke Southland

Posted: August 29, 2009 5:04 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2009 11:15 p.m.

A huge plume of smoke capped with a heat-created artificial cumulonimbus cloud rises above Placerita Canyon in this view to the southeast from Castaic late Saturday afternoon. The Station Fire was headed through the Angeles National Forest over the Santa Clara divide separating the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, and threatened to head n...

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UPDATED 11:15 p.m. Saturday:
Smoke darkened skies and ash wafted earthward in parts of the Santa Clarita Valley for the second day in a row Saturday as nearby wildfires fouled the atmosphere and presented an increasing threat of blazes spreading into the SCV.

By mid-afternoon, the wind had shifted the haze northeast to loom over Acton, painting the town orange as it stretched nearly from horizon to horizon. The light onshore breezes returned blue skies to many parts of the valley. 

The Station Fire, which ignited in La Canada Thursday, was spreading out of control in all directions by Saturday evening, according to Robert Brady, fire information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. So far, the fire had consumed more than 20,000 acres.

"The fire is going over the Santa Clara divide," Brady said. "We know it's going over by North Fork which is 13 miles east of Sand Canyon. It's not in Santa Clarita Valley now but it could possibly go over and get into Soledad Canyon Road."

U.S. Forest Service crews stationed themselves along parts of Soledad Canyon Road toward Acton.

"We have not physically seen any active fire north of the North Fork ranger station but we're anticipating some movement in that direction," said Battalion Chief Pat Rohaley.

While no fire burned in the Santa Clarita Valley as of 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the California Highway Patrol had ordered three local closures including the Soledad Canyon Road exit off Highway 14; the Agua Dulce Canyon Road exit off Highway 14; and Sand Canyon Road at Placerita Canyon Road heading toward Little Tujunga Canyon Road.

As Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputies and CHP officers barricaded Sand Canyon Road at Placerita Canyon Road, area residents asked officials about the potential threat.

"I was driving down to get a sense to see if it is close," said Nina Skorus-Neely, who lives on Sand Canyon Road. "People here have a pretty good evacuation system; (they) can get out quick."

As of 7:30 p.m., fire officials had ordered evacuations in Big Tujunga Canyon, La Canada and some in Glendale but no evacuations had been ordered in the Santa Clarita Valley, Brady said. 

The flames of the La Canada fire crept lower down the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains Saturday despite winds blowing predominantly in the other direction, threatening more than 2,000 homes in the La Canada Flintridge area.

A few homes and about 25 recreational cabins burned but exact numbers were not immediately available, said Forest Service spokesman Gabriel Alvarez.

An evacuation center was set up at La Canada High School and Jackson Elementary School in Altadena.

The fire was the largest and most dangerous of several burning around southern and central California and in Yosemite National Park.

Flames knocked out power to at least 164 residences in La Canada Flintridge Saturday afternoon, according to Southern California Edison.

More than 31 square miles of dry forest was scorched by the fire, which continued to move out in all directions, the most active flanks to the north, deeper into the forest, and east, Quintelier said. The blaze was only 5 percent contained.

At least three residents of Big Tujunga Canyon were burned and airlifted to local hospitals, Quintelier said. The details of their injuries were unknown.

Air crews waged a fierce late afternoon battle against the southeast corner of the fire, burning dangerously close to canyon homes.

"It's difficult for water-dropping aircraft to get in there, but they're still trying," Forest Service spokeswoman Jessica Luna said. Grounded by darkness, the aircraft wil be airborne again at dawn to continue battling the blaze with water and fire-retardant chemicals.

The fire was burning in steep wooded hills adjacent to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in northern Pasadena. Nearby, Dawn James, 39, a physical therapist, and friend Leah Evans, 39, watched flames roil on the mountainsides from an equestrian park where they had taken two horses from their stables. James lives in the area and her husband stayed up at the house while she watched the horses.

"We always knew it could come. We knew it was a possibility," James said.

Evans said she watched the flames spread as she spent the night in her pickup truck near her horses.

"Through the night, you kind of watch it diminish, and then flare up," Evans said. "It's just amazing to watch, kind of unbelievable."

A thick layer of smoke hovered over the Los Angeles Basin and San Fernando Valley, and officials issued a smoke advisory for communities near the fire. Residents were urged to avoid exertion and seek air-conditioned shelter.

A second fire in the Angeles National Forest was burning several miles to the east in a canyon above the city of Azusa. The 3.4-square-mile blaze, which started Tuesday afternoon, was 85 percent contained Saturday. No homes were threatened, and full containment was expected by Monday.

A wildfire on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on the south Los Angeles County coast was 100 percent contained Saturday afternoon, according to county fire officials. As many as 1,500 people were forced to flee at the height of the fire Thursday night. Six homes were damaged.

Southeast of Los Angeles in Riverside County, a 3½-square-mile fire in a rural area of the San Bernardino National Forest was 10 percent contained.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday in Los Angeles and Monterey counties.

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5 p.m. Saturday:
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station deputues have blocked off traffic for residents travelling into Sand Canyon Road in Canyon Country due to approaching flames from the fire in La Canada.

The road is closed at Sand Canyon Road and Placerita Canyon Road.

"The fire is slowly coming over the back side of Sand Canyon at the top of Bear Divide," said Lt. Robert Lewis.

As of about 5 p.m., nothing north of Bear Divide has been evacuated, according to officials.

-- Signal Staff Writer Melissa Gasca and Signal Online Editor Stephen K. Peeples contributed to this story.

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