A wildfire sparked by a car crash in Santa Clarita, California, on Sunday quickly spread over 750 acres, prompting an evacuation of residents and a freeway closure. Authorities from the Los Angeles County Fire Department said that the blaze started around 1 p.m. PST near the intersection of the 14 Freeway and Placerita Canyon Road when a woman hit a tree.
The fire quickly spread, jumping the freeway and destroying a building and a bridge in the Disney Ranch, a private filming area of Santa Clarita. Around 76 homes in the Disney Ranch area were without power.
The wildfire was around 50 percent contained at 7 p.m. Sunday evening, according to LACFD spokesman Captain Keith Mora, with firefighters working hard to get the rest of the blaze under control. But with dried grasses due to high temperatures and little rain, the fast-moving fire prompted officials to declare mandatory evacuations for the Disney Ranch, Tenderfoot Trail Road, Running Horse Road, and Placerita Canyon areas. Other areas were not mandatory, but residents were asked to evacuate voluntarily.
The 14 Freeway closure impacted hundreds of Sunday drivers in Santa Clarita, as closures southbound at Golden Valley and northbound at Newhall Avenue created lone traffic buildups in both directions. Some motorists were held up for over two hours. The freeway is now open northbound except for one lane, but southbound lanes remained closed.
The wildfire comes as no real surprise to local residents, who have dealt with brush fires under similar conditions in the past. According to Todd Hall of the National Weather Service, Santa Clarita was experiencing extreme temperatures of up to 109 degrees F. Those high temperatures combined with the dry season is a recipe for strong, fast fires. However, despite those conditions, firefighters had most of the flames out and were working on taming a few of the hotspots by early Sunday evening. They will remain on duty overnight to patrol the perimeter of the fire zone and ensure there are no additional flareups.
“We feel real confident with it now,” said Captain Mora.
California had one of the wettest winters in years beginning in 2016, which caused above average growth in foliage. However, this will soon prove to be problematic, according to a report from CAL FIRE, which compiles data from various brush and wildfires throughout the year in California. That new growth has already begun to dry out and will turn to tinder for strong fires, which will often be moving very fast due to strong winds. CAL FIRE reported that between January 1 and June 18, California had already seen 1,870 fires damaging or destroying more than 19,000 acres. During the same period last year, CAL FIRE reported 1,548 fires, burning only 8,684 acres.
With the five-year drought in California and an infestation of bark beetles, dead and porous wood is plentiful, which poses a very high risk for wildfire when combined with high temperatures. But, for many residents of Santa Clarita, a California wildfire is nothing new.
“It’s not as scary as last time,” said Cherish, the granddaughter of Rudy Montanez. He, along with his wife and three grandchildren, were stuck on the freeway for hours, missing a friend’s birthday party.
As firefighters stamp out the rest of the Placerita Canyon wildfire, and Santa Clarita residents return to their homes, the knowledge that another wildfire like Sunday’s could pop up at any moment will do little to keep these Californians from their daily lives.
[Featured Image by Nick Ut/AP Images]