Los Angeles Area Fire Burns Area Bigger Than San Francisco, Forces 20,000 To Flee Homes

The sand canyon fire burning in the hills above Los Angeles has consumed 33,000 acres, destroyed 18 homes, and forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate. Officials fear shifting winds could make things worse.

The blazing Santa Clarita fire has scorched 51 square miles, an area larger than the city of San Francisco, Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Dennis Cross told NBC Los Angeles.

“This fire, what we’ve seen in 72 hours, is almost unprecedented. We’d have to go back a long way to compare a fire to this. And, we’re not through with this thing yet.”

Santa Clarita firefighters fight massive fire
Santa Clarita fire [Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

Almost 3,000 firefighters are battling the blaze using 356 fire engines, 14 bulldozers, 26 helicopters, and 16 water tenders. The blaze is only 10 percent contained, and the nearly inaccessible terrain is hampering firefighting efforts.

Tens of thousands of area residents were forced to flee their homes over the weekend, and about 20,000 people remained out of their homes Monday morning, incident commander Chief Mike Wakoski told NBC Los Angeles.

“It has averaged about 10,000 acres per day. An acre is a football field, so imagine, 10,000 football fields per day.”

A man’s body was found in a burned-out car as the inferno blazed through neighborhoods, and homicide detectives were working to determine the cause of death. The Sable Ranch, the set of many movies and television shows such as The A Team, 24, Maverick, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, was also lost to the flames.

Firefighting efforts in Santa Clarita hampered by terrain.
[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

Melanie Griffith tweeted out a prayer request Sunday after her mother was evacuated from Shambala, a wildlife sanctuary dedicated to saving exotic felines that have been confiscated by animal protection groups, reports the Daily Mail.

“Please say a prayer for all residents in the path of the #SandFire. My Moms place Shambala is being evacuated.”

Sand Canyon fire above Los Angeles forces tens of thousands to evacuate.
Sand Canyon fire [Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

Some 770 large animals have been evacuated from the fire area and are being cared for by LA County Animal Care and Control, but one family was forced to put down their horse when it refused to move from its stall, resident Chris Pease told the Los Angeles Times

“It was the most frightening thing. The flames were leaping up in some areas 50 feet in the air, 100 feet in the air. It was coming running down the hill, just a big, red glow, almost like lava. It looked like lava.”

The fast-moving fire broke out Friday afternoon, and in just a few hours, it had grown into a massive wildfire, which shifting winds sent racing through area neighborhoods. The mountainous terrain has complicated firefighters’ efforts to battle the blaze and forced them to rely on aircraft and bulldozer lines to fight the fire.

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Firefighters have been dumping flame retardant around the edge of the blaze to stop it from spreading, but high winds and soaring temperatures have enabled the fire to jump canyons and get ahead of fire lines. Temperatures reached 112 in the fire area over the weekend.

Drones were spotted in the fire area over the weekend, prompting fire officials to ground aircraft involved in firefighting efforts for 30 minutes. Officials have warned residents that their use of remote control the drones hinders their firefighting efforts and have threatened to bring criminal charges against anyone caught operating one, reports KTLA.

“If you fly, we can’t.”

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Smoke and ash have blanketed the greater Los Angeles area, causing air quality concerns for area residents. The LA County Board of Supervisors plans to declare a state of emergency Tuesday.

The fire is blazing through California hillsides dried out by five years of serious drought making firefighters worry this could be the worst fire season ever.

Further north in Monterey County, the Soberanes Fire near Big Sur has burned 15,000 acres and destroyed 20 homes forcing nearby residents to evacuate.

[Photo by Ryan Babroff/AP Images]