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At least 11 homes destroyed as Creek fire grows in Angeles National Forest

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 12/6/2017 Brittny Mejia, Joseph Serna
A fire crew passes a burning home during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. © REUTERS/Mike Blake A fire crew passes a burning home during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017.

A rapidly growing wildfire in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest above Sylmar and Lake View Terrace has destroyed 11 homes and injured two firefighters on its way to scorching at least 11,000 acres, authorities said Tuesday.

Driven by powerful Santa Ana winds, the Creek fire broke out off Little Tujunga Canyon Road around 4 a.m. and was threatening homes north of the 210 Freeway. The California Highway Patrol closed the freeway in both directions between the 5 and 2 freeways before noon as the fire continued to grow.

The blaze was 0% contained Tuesday afternoon, and more than 20 square miles of residential property had been evacuated.

One firefighter was injured and is listed in stable condition after a bulldozer he was operating rolled over. A second firefighter was burned when a propane tank exploded, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said.

At least 11 homes have been destroyed, and Terrazas said he anticipates more will be found when the smoke clears.

The fire jumped the 210 Freeway as winds continued to push the flames south into the foothill communities below the forest.

“Our people are working hard. They know our mission to protect life and property is critical,” Terrazas said.

At a morning briefing, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said the fire was still growing as more crews arrived.

Behind him, trees swayed as the winds whipped across the landscape.

“We’re in an extreme firefight,” the chief said. “We had a very warm, dry summer, our fuels are at critical levels and they’re very explosive, as you can see right now.”

There are more than 700 firefighters battling the blaze and more than 50 fire engines within Sylmar’s neighborhoods, officials said. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told residents that if they’re in the evacuation zone, they need to leave.

a close up of a map © Raoul Ranoa/@latimesgraphics “This will not be the only fire,” Beck said. “We’re going to be hard-pressed to meet all the resources throughout the city and the county of Los Angeles due to this weather event, and if you stay in your homes, you cause our resources to be diverted to take care of you.”

The department is on a citywide tactical alert to ensure full staffing because of the fire, officials said.

About five miles from the incident’s command post, evacuated families took shelter at the Sylmar Recreation Center.

..There were between 30 and 50 people at the shelter before noon.

A neighbor woke Wood Grigsby up around 4 a.m. Tuesday. Grigsby has lived in upper Kagel Canyon for 12 years.

“I came outside, and we were surrounded pretty much on all sides by fire,” Grigsby said.

He said his house is well-defended against fire — he clears the brush, has gravel and there isn’t much to burn close to him. But he and his son did take furniture in from the porch and grabbed shovels to put out little fires burning in the grass and fields of his neighbor’s house.

His neighbor’s house, about 180 feet up the mountain from him, burned, which worried him.

“By the time the fire department got there, it was completely engulfed in flames,” he said. “The wind would change ... and when it did that, it would blow up a bunch of embers into the air. It’s very dramatic looking in the dark to see those embers coming by in a tornado-like fashion and just dropping all over my property.”

He and his son stayed outside for about three hours putting out the embers to make sure they didn’t start fires on his property or other neighbor’s lots.

“The fire department was just stretched so thin. When you get a big fire going like this, there’s only so much we can do. So my son and I were out there with our little shovels, helping as much as he could.”

Grigsby said he was unaware of any mandatory evacuations. The fire department checked in on them, he said, and they just told him to be careful. He said it still smells terrible up there, but the skies are clearing and there’s only a little bit of haze now.

Scott Wells sat with his wife and son in the rec center’s gym between the basketball hoops, waiting to learn when he might be able to go home. When Wells woke up in the predawn hours in his home in upper Kagel Canyon, he smelled the smoke. When he looked outside, there was brush burning all around. He woke his wife, Patricia Beckmann Wells, and the two began putting out spot fires.

“It was pretty scary,” Wells said. “It was all around us.”

When their 5-year-old son, Petey, woke up and smelled smoke, “he got a little freaked out,” Wells said. “But we talked him down. … And then he was fine.”

The fire department and sheriff’s department later came and asked them to evacuate. “There were houses on fire,” Wells said.

He said they’ve been monitoring a Facebook group for the canyon and they’ve been told their house is fine. He said there are at least two houses they know that are gone and they’ve heard of more.

There have been reports of burned structures within the Kagel Canyon and Lopez Canyon communities. Mandatory evacuations were expanded just after 11 a.m. to all neighborhoods north of the 210 Freeway between La Crescenta Avenue and Glenoaks Boulevard, an area that affects thousands of residents.

Students at Hubbard and Harding elementary schools and Vaughn Early Education Center are taking their classes at San Fernando High School.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District cautioned residents in the San Fernando Valley and northwest coastal areas of L.A. County to stay indoors and avoid areas with visible smoke because of unhealthy air quality.

“It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask all individuals to be aware of their immediate environment and to take actions to safeguard their health,” Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, interim health officer for Los Angeles County, said in a statement. “Smoke and ash can be harmful to health, especially in vulnerable individuals, like the elderly, people with asthma or individuals with other respiratory and heart conditions.”

About 200 Los Angeles Police Department officers were handling evacuations in parts of Sylmar and Lake View Terrace.

The Santa Ana winds are expected to remain in the area through at least Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti reminded Angelenos to be prepared in case a fire breaks out in their area.

“My message, very strong and clear, to the residents of Los Angeles is to be ready to go. Say, ‘Ready, set, go,’ ” the mayor said.

The blaze comes as other firefighters are dealing with a fast-moving, wind-driven wildfire that has swept into the city of Ventura, burned 45,000 acres, destroyed homes and forced 27,000 people to evacuate. About 150 structures — including at least one large apartment complex — were consumed by flames, and many more were threatened as the fire crept about a quarter-mile from Ventura City Hall

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