A fire scare in Santa Clarita

The fast- mov­ing blaze burns 350 acres and 1,000 flee, but they are later al­lowed back in their homes.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Javier Pan­zar and Veron­ica Rocha

Mon­ica Santa Cruz was show­er­ing in­side her mo­bile home Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon when she peered out her bath­room win­dow and saw a wall of f lames ap­proach­ing.

She screamed and told her sis­ter to start pack­ing. Within min­utes, Santa Cruz and her sis­ter f led with what few be­long­ings they could gather — medicine, pass­ports and T- shirts — as smoke over­came their Santa Clarita Val­ley neigh­bor­hood.

“It was ev­ery­where. You could barely see,” said Santa Cruz, 33, as she sat in an emer­gency shel­ter at West Ranch High School, wait­ing to hear if their home was spared.

The sis­ters were among more than 1,000 res­i­dents

forced to evac­u­ate af­ter a fast- mov­ing f ire tore through dry brush along the 5 Free­way near Cal­grove Boule­vard in Santa Clarita. The f ire forced transit of­fi­cials to briefly shut down the in­ter­state, snarling traf­fic for hours.

When the fire was first re­ported about 1 p. m., it was about three acres in size. Winds over the moun­tains gusted at 20 to 30 mph, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice, and within hours, the f ire had burned through 350 acres.

Flames spread into Wild­wood Canyon, an open space with steep ravines and dense fo­liage that’s partly sur­rounded by large homes.

Sev­eral of those homes were threat­ened, and some res­i­dents said f lames came within f ive feet of their houses. At least one struc­ture caught f ire: a garage at the home of Daniel Mortensen.

The 47- year- old at­tor­ney said he raced home from his of­fice, lo­cated about one mile away, af­ter his wife alerted him to the f ire. He was still wear­ing his suit when he ar­rived.

“I tore all that off and ran up to the roof,” Mortensen said. As he was hos­ing down the roof, a tree nearby caught f ire and ig­nited the garage.

Con­ced­ing to the blaze, he and his wife took their two chil­dren, two cats and dog to his mother- in- law’s Va­len­cia home, where they watched their garage burn on live TV.

Fire­fight­ers man­aged to douse the f lames and stop the fire from spread­ing.

“They re­ally put up a f ight. They saved us,” Mortensen said of the fire crews. “It was go­ing to go.”

More than 450 f ire­fight­ers were de­ployed to the area, said county fire Deputy Chief John Tripp. By night­fall, fire crews had the up­per hand and res­i­dents were al­lowed back to their homes.

Af­ter Kristy Al­brecq, 27, saw that her par­ents’ home was spared, she sprinted to­ward her neigh­bors an­nounc­ing the good news: “Our house is still there! Our house is still there!”

The fire’s plume of smoke was vis­i­ble from miles around, prompt­ing air qual­ity of­fi­cials to is­sue an ad­vi­sory. Fore­cast­ers said the smoke would drift to the north and north­east, away from the L. A. Basin. Around the Santa Clarita Val­ley, the f ire left a coat­ing of ash on cars, park­ing lots and lawns.

The fast- mov­ing f ire un­der­scored the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of drought- rav­aged fo­liage, of­fi­cials said.

Yet res­i­dent Steve Colf, 71, brushed aside the fire as a fact of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia life.

“Fire is part of na­ture,” he said. “You just have to pre­pare for it.” The long­time res­i­dent of Ne­whall had cleared all the brush within 200 feet of struc­tures on his horse ranch long be­fore Wed­nes­day’s blaze.

As the canyons smol­dered, Colf hoped the f ire had ger­mi­nated the lupines. In the weeks ahead, he said, the seedlings would sprout and trans­form the scorched earth into a sea of pur­ple blos­soms.

Pho­tog r aphs by Michael Robin­son Chavez Los An­ge­les Times

THE BRUSH FIRE burns through the Ne­whall Pass on Wed­nes­day along the eastern edge of In­ter­state 5. The blaze forced a brief clo­sure of the free­way.

Pho­tog r aphs by Michael Robin­son Chavez Los An­ge­les Times

MORE THAN 450 f iref ighters were de­ployed to the area. The f ire’s plume of smoke was vis­i­ble from miles around, prompt­ing air qual­ity off icials to is­sue an ad­vi­sory. By night­fall, f ire crews had the up­per hand and res­i­dents were al­lowed back to their homes.

MO­BILE HOMES were evac­u­ated as the brush f ire burned in the hills above Santa Clarita. The f ire un­der­scored the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of drought- rav­aged fo­liage.

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