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UPDATED: Wildfire threat to SCV diminishes

Posted: October 13, 2008 10:55 a.m.
Updated: December 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Firefighters cut through a fence to extinguish a burning shipping container. Fire crews from around Southern California battle the Marek fire near the 210 freeway between McClay Road and Van Nuys Blvd. in the northern San Fernando Valley. These pictures were taken from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 13, 2008. Residents in north Sylmar and Lake V...

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UPDATED 10 pm. Tuesday:
Fire officials are reporting the Sesnon Fire is 20 percent contained. Lighter northerly winds and an aggressive effort by L.A. County Fire water-dropping helicopters kept the fire's northern flank from heading downhill into the Santa Clarita Valley in the early evening.

The Marek Fire 10 miles to the east is now 80 percent contained, officials report.

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UPDATED 6:19 p.m. Tuesday:
The Sesnon fire has burned 13,285 acres in the San Fernando and Simi valleys, and there is zero containment, according to fire officials.

Around 5 p.m., the fire reached the top of the Santa Susana Mountains above Porter Ranch, so Santa Clarita Valley residents on the north side of the mountain range could see spots of the mountaintop on fire, spewing white smoke as county fire-fighting helicopters dropped water.

The winds continued to blow north to south, however, away from the SCV.

The Marek Fire has burned 4,824 acres and 57 structures. It is 70 percent contained.

Check back later for more updates.

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UPDATED 2:25 p.m. Tuesday:
The Sesnon Fire is again moving toward the Santa Clarita Valley, an L.A. County Fire official said at 2:15 p.m.

"If the fire continues to move on its current track, it will cross Interstate 5" from west to east, said Inspector Frank Garrido of L.A. County Fire.

A flareup of the fire between 11:30 a.m. and noon today prompted an evcauation of the Knollwood community located north of Sesnun Blvd. west of Balboa Blvd. in the Granada Hills area.

Fire officials will provide updated statistics on the Sesnun Fire at 6 p.m. today.

UPDATED 2:15 p.m. Tuesday:
The Sesnon Fire doubled in size Monday night and Tuesday morning, forcing the evacuation of 2,000 homes while scorching 9,872 acres and 19 homes near Porter Ranch, a fire official said.

Despite winds that blew lighter than forecasted, the fire continued to grow and spew smoke into the San Fernando Valley, said Inspector James Barnes of Los Angeles County Fire. Winds continue to blow from the north, pushing the fire away from Santa Clarita Valley, he said.

The Sesnon fire started Monday morning and what started as a brush fire rapidly expanded into a 2,000 acre menace, Barnes said.

Air attack was limited to squelching flare ups and ground crews worked through the night battling the blaze, Barnes said. Things could have been worse had the forecast winds materialized, he said.

Diminished winds and an all-night effort created the perfect mix for firefighters to get control of the Marek Fire, said Luke Claus, Battalion 6 assistant fire chief.

The Marek fire started Sunday morning and burned 4,824 acres near Little Tujunga Canyon as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, said Luke Claus, assistant fire chief for Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion 6.

"The winds we expected didn't materialize and we just worked the fire all night," he said.

The forecast called for steady winds up to 45 mph with gusts topping 70 mph, said Stuart Seto, weather specialist for the National Weather Service.

"The upper level winds between 5,000 and 10,000 feet, which really drive ground level wind just wasn't strong enough," he said.

That translated into fewer strong gusts and gave firefighters a chance to get in front of the fire. Ground crews worked the perimeter and helicopters dropped whenever pilots saw flareups, Claus said.

The National Weather Service forecast during the next 24 hours calls for sustained winds out of the north and northeast at 20-40 mph with gusts above 50 mph, Seto said.

While the service forecasts those winds to diminish by Wednesday afternoon, it also predicts a long duration of single-digit humidity readings and hazardous fire conditions through Wednesday evening.

A weak offshore flow pattern is now expected to linger on Thursday and Friday, keeping conditions very warm and dry across much of the area.

While offshore winds will remain light, the NWS may extend the current red flag warning, originally to expire at 10 p.m. Wednesday, in some inland locations due to continued low humidity.

The service expects the offshore flow to bring cooler temperatures and higher humidity readings this weekend.

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UPDATED 10:55 a.m. Tuesday:
Diminished winds and an all-night effort allowed firefighters to get control of the Marek Fire, according to a fire official.

The Sesnun Fire is no longer threatening the Santa Clarita Valley, according to Stephanie English, L.A. County Fire spokewoman.

Check back later for further updates.

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Strong Santa Ana winds sent two wildfires surging into neighborhoods ringing the San Fernando Valley on Monday, killing a homeless man, destroying homes and triggering frantic evacuations.

Another person died in a freeway crash as fire brought traffic to a halt.

On Monday afternoon the Sesnon Fire, which erupted in Porter Ranch, crested the mountains and headed into the Santa Clarita Valley, sending church members and horse owners scrambling.

Karen Pace had just moved her horse, Solitaire, out of the path of the Marek Fire near Lake View Terrace to Camelot Riding Club in Newhall, then stood by anxiously as flames headed toward the stables on The Old Road near Newhall Pass.

The smoke wasn't visible from Church of the Nazarene, also on The Old Road, but the Rev. Greg Garman's attention stayed glued to fire news.

"One of our parishioners is a firefighter and continues to call with updates," he said.
By 9:25 p.m. glowing embers were still visible though the wind had died down.

In a full-throttle start to the fall fire season, more than 1,000 firefighters and a fleet of water- and retardant-dropping aircraft battled the 4,726-acre Marek Fire at the northeast end of the San Fernando Valley and the 5,000-acre Sesnon Fire in the Porter Ranch area at the west end. Combined, more than 15 square miles were charred.

Authorities confirmed more than three-dozen mobile homes burned at the Marek Fire and TV news helicopter crews counted about 10 homes destroyed by the Sesnon Fire. Commercial sites burned in both fires.

Firefighters were struggling with the resurgent, day-old Marek Fire when the second blaze erupted at midmorning Monday a few miles to the west on Oat Mountain above Porter Ranch.

It quickly grew as winds blew from the northeast at 35 mph to 45 mph with gusts to 70 mph, spitting embers among homes.

"It is a blowtorch we can't get in front of," said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Frank Garrido.

Fire officials alerted other communities to the west in Simi Valley and south to Malibu, 20 miles away, as an ominous plume streamed over neighborhoods and far out to sea.

"This fire has the real potential of moving from where it is now ... as far as Pacific Coast (Highway)," said Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman.

Residents downwind were warned to remain alert into the night.

"It can go from here to the ocean in a matter of two to three hours," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Freeman warned people not to stay home after evacuation orders had been given.

"In some situations you may not be able to even outrun this fire," Freeman said.

A man was killed in a fiery rear-end collision on the 118 Freeway. California Highway Patrol Officer Leland Tang said traffic stopped because firefighters were going by as fire neared the route. Four vehicles were involved.

At some point, motorists stopped on the freeway because of the flames and CHP officers turned them around to use an on-ramp as an exit, said CHP Capt. J.D. Goodwin.

Red Cross spokeswoman Red Godfrey said 500 people registered at an evacuation center at San Fernando High School and about 80 to 100 were staying there.

The Red Cross also opened a second evacuation center at Sylmar High School.

Earlier, a fatality was discovered at the Marek Fire, an area where neighborhoods abut rugged canyonlands below the mountainous Angeles National forest.

The victim was a man who appeared to be a transient living with a dog in a makeshift shelter, officials said.

Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa said it would take some time to identify the victim.

An estimated 1,200 people were evacuated due to the Marek Fire, which was just 5 percent contained.

Glenn Bell described a chaotic scene at daybreak as hundreds of people tried to escape the Blue Star Mobile Home Park, where more than 35 homes were burned.

Bell said he and another park resident broke a padlock on an emergency exit gate at the back of the park.

"It was a death trap," said Bell, 50.

"If we hadn't broke open that gate," he said, "there would be people dead up there."

As he fled with his wife, Jean, and their dog, Clyde, Bell said they could hear explosions coming from a nearby industrial yard where scores of diesel trucks are stored.

LifeHOUSE Maclay convalescent home on Maclay Street in Sylmar evacuated its residents, and Olive View-UCLA Medical Center evacuated five of its most fragile patients to other hospitals.

The dry, warm Santa Ana winds typically blow into Southern California between October and February.
Santa Ana winds originate in the Great Basin.

High pressure pushes cool, dry desert air through the Southern California mountains, compressing and heating the air as it descends, picking up speed and spreading fires across parched regions.

Last October, fires fanned by Santa Anas destroyed 2,196 homes and burned a combined 800 square-miles in Southern California.

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