Crews make major progress on Sesnon Fire

PORTER RANCH, Calif. A wildfire that began in the Porter Ranch area at about 10:30 p.m. Monday made an aggressive push toward the Simi Valley community on Tuesday. Sources close to the investigation say the cause of the Sesnon Fire is downed power lines, most likely caused by the high winds.

The Sesnon Fire is one of three major blazes that have burned about 34 square miles of southern California.

The fire has destroyed 66 structures, including over a dozen homes, injured three firefighters and forced thousands of residents to flee in Porter Ranch, Granada Hills and Simi Valley. The wind has been constant, and the steep terrain of many hills made it difficult for crews to get a handle of it. The fire is about 70 percent contained on Thursday, and crews expect to have full containment by Saturday.

All evacuations have been lifted

The following were previously listed as evacuation areas:
  • Box Canyon
  • Bell Canyon
  • Lake Manor
  • Woolsey Canyon
  • Lilac Lane
  • Porter Ranch: North of the Ronald Reagan (118) Fwy., east of the Los Angeles County line
  • Porter Ranch: West of Reseda Blvd.
  • Porter Ranch: South of the Ronald Reagan Fwy., east of Topanga Canyon Blvd.
  • Homes on Vista Grande Way
  • Edelston Park area
  • Dayton Canyon
  • Brown Canyon
  • Twin Lakes
  • Lopez Canyon
The Sesnon Fire had doubled in size overnight Monday, pushing the fight to Granada Hills as heavy winds persisted in the area. Helicopters continued to make water drops all day Tuesday on flames across the Porter Ranch area that burned about 10,000 acres by Tuesday morning. By Wednesday, 13,285 acres had been scorched, and the cost of fighting the blaze is an estimated $8 million.

"It was just spots up the hill, and then boom, it came down that hill and hit that tall grass, and it just went like crazy, never saw anything so fast," said Karen Martin, a Simi Valley resident.

But as winds became moderate on Wednesday, fire commanders say they'll be able to deploy SuperScoopers.

Winds were not expected to blow more than 15 mph in the area Wednesday morning, though temperatures in the 90s were predicted for later in the day and humidity remained very low.

"There are some hot spots that the firefighters are cold-trailing, separating the burned from the unburned, and we're hoping that the conditions will remain the same, and by the end of the day, we can start de-escalating the incident," said Carlos Valvillo from the L.A. City Fire Department.

Crews pooled resources from all over southern California in their effort to knock down the Sesnon Fire. Officials also said residents played a critical role in helping firefighters save their homes. With so many fires, it's not surprising that we're under health and air quality alerts. The Air Quality Management District (AQMD) rates air quality in the burn areas as unhealthy for sensitive groups on Tuesday. Fire officials warn the fires burned through some pesticides and fertilizers, possibly releasing toxic smoke into the air. Some fire evacuees face an extra problem -- they are horse owners who need a safe place for their animals. The Ventura County Fairgrounds is one place they can take them On Tuesday, police were urgently evacuating residents on Jolette Avenue, near O'Melveny Park, as an out-of-control fire burned yards from their homes. Helicopters made precise water drops, as ground crews doused flames closest to homes, and by 2 p.m., the danger near the park had subsided.

One resident loading up his truck said he remembered the wildfires in 1988 in the same area.

"Burned through the backyards and it was a lot worse," he said. "We're just trying to keep our heads straight here and just figure out what we're going to do from here."

Numbers from the Porter Ranch wildfire:
  • 70 percent contained.
  • 14,125 acres burned
  • 66 structures destroyed, including 15 homes
  • One fatality on 118 Freeway
  • 130 homes in the San Fernando Valley are without power due to fire
On Monday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Ventura County and Los Angeles County.

Fifteen homes and 47 outbuildings were destroyed in the Porter Ranch area, and another six homes were damaged, said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Ron Haralson. Officials said evacuation orders for several neighborhoods, including large parts of Porter Ranch, were lifted Tuesday night, but he warned that the situation could quickly change with the wind. Warnings for critical fire weather conditions were to remain in effect until Wednesday night. The one fatality that is blamed on the Sesnon Fire happened as the California Highway Patrol had been in the process of shutting down the 118 Freeway. A tow truck and another vehicle collided head-on just east of DeSoto Avenue at 12:27 p.m. Monday in an area of the roadway that was inundated by thick black smoke. Vehicles had been turning around and driving against traffic to use an on-ramp as an exit. The vehicle overturned and caught on fire, killing a person inside the car.

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

As crews fought flames, drivers were left facing a mess on roadways and freeways. Authorities shut down Rinaldi Street and Reseda Bouelvard in the area, while the 118 Freeway was at a standstill on Monday afternoon after a fatal collision and a closure of the 118 from the 5 to the 210 and the 405 to the Ventura County line.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa acknowledged the uncertainty facing residents of the fire areas.

"Many still don't know when they are going to return home," he said during a press conference. "Our hearts and prayers are out with all of them."

Evacuation shelters (overnight facility):
  • Shepherd of the Hills Church
    19700 Rinaldi St.
    Porter Ranch, Calif.

  • Canoga Park High School
    6850 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
    Canoga Park, Calif.
    (818) 673-1300
Evacuation centers (not an overnight facility):
  • El Camino Real High School
    5440 Valley Circle Blvd.
    Woodland Hills, Calif.
    (818) 595-7500

Animal shelters
  • To accommodate large animals only:
    Ventura County Fairgrounds
    10 West Harbor Blvd.
    Ventura, Calif.
    Call Ventura Co. Sheriff's Dept. (805) 654-3593

  • To accommodate small animals only:
    Simi Valley Animal Shelter
    670 W. Los Angeles Ave.
    Simi Valley, Calif.

    Mission Animal Shelter
    15321 Brand Ave.
    Mission Hills, Calif.

    West Valley Animal Shelter
    20655 Plummer St.
    Chatsworth, Calif.

Public Transportation:

Metro Bus lines 290, 233 and 243 are running with slightly shortened routes as follows:
  • Metro Bus line 290 is running regular service except on Foothill Boulevard between Wentworth and Osborne streets
  • Metro Bus line 233 has no service north of Glenoaks
  • Metro Bus line 243 has no service north of Devonshire

Metrolink service is running normally.

For updated Metro information and route changes, call the toll-free number (800) COMMUTE.

For information on the fire, traffic and shelters: (800) 439-2909

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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