Three More Major Fires set Residents on Edge

Dense smoke from the Saddle Ridge Fire blanketed the Santa Monica mountains and much of Los Angeles in thick smoke, generating air quality warnings, anxiety and a blood-red fire sunset, but the fire was stopped long before it could reach the coast.

Topanga residents weathered a nervous week of extreme fire risk as the Getty fire threatened the entire eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. The wildfire ignited at 1:34 a.m., October 28, near the 405 freeway on North Sepulveda Blvd., and rapidly spread upslope into rugged terrain. 

The emergency triggered the closure of Topanga Canyon Blvd., the 405 and northbound Pacific Coast Highway, and necessitated evacuation warnings in the eastern half of the Topanga community. 

The fire burned 745 acres above Brentwood and Mandeville Canyon. A total of 10 residences were destroyed, with 15 more sustaining damage. A total of 96 personnel, 22 engines, and three dozers were assigned to the fire. The incident command officially closed on November 7, but firefighters remained on the scene for several days extinguishing hot spots and patrolling the area to identify any potential hazards.

The fire was deemed an accidental start, caused by a tree branch that struck nearby power lines during high wind conditions. “This errant tree branch caused the sparking and arcing, igniting nearby brush,” the final incident report issued by the Los Angeles Fire Department states.

The Saddle Ridge fire is also contained. This fast-moving fire ignited in Sylmar on October 10,  rapidly jumped the 210 and 14 freeways, initially raising concerns that it might make the run from Saugus to the sea, following the path of the 1970 Wright Fire.

As of October 31, the fire, which spread over a 13-square-mile area from Sylmar to Porter Ranch, was officially contained at 8,799 acres. A total of 19 structures were destroyed, 88 were damaged. There was one civilian fatality, and eight fire fighters sustained injuries. The smoke created an air quality health hazard for Santa Monica Mountains residents. 

Smoke from the Maria Fire in Ventura County also impacted local air quality. The Maria Fire broke out on October 31. There is evidence to suggest that the fire started while Southern California Edison was re-energizing power lines following a public safety power shutoff (PSPS). As of November 5, Ventura County Fire was reporting that the blaze was 95 percent contained at 9,499 acres. 

Closer to home, a structure fire on Fernwood in Topanga, and a power pole fire in Corral Canyon raised concerns but were extinguished before they could spread. Residents extinguished the Corral Fire before firefighters arrived on the scene. At least five fire engines were dispatched to the Fernwood incident. 

All of the recent major fires were wind-driven and occurred during extreme weather conditions with low humidity and high winds.

Residents in the wildfire-prone Santa Monica Mountains had a reprieve last week, as coastal fog and higher humidity returned, but authorities caution that fire season isn’t over. All residents are encouraged to be prepared in the event of a brush fire, remain vigilant, and familiarize themselves with the Ready-Set-Go program: lafd.org/ready-set-go.

 

Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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