Nearly two dozen Pasadena police officers who live in Santa Clarita found their homes in danger of being consumed by the Sand Fire.
“One Pasadena police officer’s family has already been evacuated,” said Pasadena police spokesman Lt. Vasken Gourdikian. “Twenty others either were in the path of the fire or could be in the path depending on the elements. Right now, we are in communication with the families. Should they need assistance, we can use off-duty personnel to help them evacuate.”
Named for Sand Canyon in Santa Clarita, the Sand Fire has scorched more than 35,000 acres as of Tuesday, destroyed 18 homes and led to the death of at least one person. Families evacuated from 10,000 homes were allowed to return late Monday night. As of Tuesday, firefighters had contained 25 percent of the fire.
Santa Clarita is about 30 miles northwest of Pasadena. Real estate is cheaper in that area, making it ideal for people working in Pasadena and Los Angeles to buy a home there and commute to and from work.
Department heads at Pasadena City Hall were also monitoring the status of employees in their departments who live in that area.
According to Assistant City Manager Julie Gutierrez, about a dozen additional employees live in Santa Clarita. She did not provide information about those situations when reached by the Pasadena Weekly.
“We’ve reached out to all employees living in that area, just to extend a helping hand,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer. “We are monitoring the heat, the air quality and everything else.
The fire, which left homes, cars and lawns covered with ash, forced the cancellation of several local events.
“Air quality is still poor,” said Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman Lisa Derderian. “Compounded with the heat, we are still recommending people with health problems stay indoors. Over the weekend we closed down pools and canceled a concert at the Levitt Pavilion. A youth soccer game and archery lessons were also canceled.”
According to Derderian, eight local firefighters in two fire engines have traveled to the area to help fight the blaze by defending local structures. The firefighters will be there for an undetermined amount of time, according to Derderian. Pasadena has also donated a water tanker to help battle the blaze.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, whose district includes Santa Clarita, said he wanted a state of emergency declared in the area, but Gov. Jerry Brown had not done so by Tuesday morning.
Antonovich also called on residents to follow evacuation orders and claimed that people refusing to evacuate were holding up firefighters who were trying to put out the blaze.
A California Highway Patrol spokesperson said several officers had nearly been struck by people attempting to return to their homes.
Fire officials still don’t know the cause of the blaze, which started as a small brush fire on Friday and quickly grew in size due to sweltering triple-digit temperatures that reached 110 degrees.
All told, 1,700 firefighters were fighting the blaze on the ground and 26 helicopters were attacking from the air. Water-dropping efforts were temporarily halted on Sunday due to several flybys by drones that forced firefighters to ground the copters.
“We had a couple incursions in our airspace, which is already a very dynamic and very busy time for our aircraft during the firefight as the fire comes down to the neighborhoods,” Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Rob Garcia said at a news conference. “If you fly, we can’t, and that does have an impact on our aerial assault.”
Throughout the week officials were worried that weather conditions could further whip up the flames, as 30-mph winds blowing from the southwest were forecast. Such an event could drive the quick-moving fire deeper into dry areas brought on by the recent drought. There has not been a fire in the area since 2009 which left a great deal of fuel for the Sand Fire to feed on.
“It looks like a war zone down there. Everything looks brown it looks like a sand storm,” said Larissa De La Cruz, an employee with the city of San Gabriel.
“I am west of the 14 Freeway and I am not in the path unless it jumps the freeway,” said De La Cruz. “The air quality has been horrible in my neighborhood and the access to get in and out of town has been bad.”
Fighting the fire has been difficult because of rugged terrain and high winds which have been blowing the fire toward populated areas. On Sunday the fire jumped into nearby Placentia Canyon and began burning north, creating another set of problems for firefighters,
“It’s been touch and go,” said actor and Santa Clarita resident Kevin Linell. “It’s a scary thing. But we’re all calm. Saturday it went away from us during the night, but Sunday it turned and came back. Today [Monday], it’s standing still but still nearby.”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the fire destroyed film sets on the Sable Ranch, which has been the site for several TV and feature film shoots, including “The A-Team,” “24,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Maverick.”
“Unfortunately, you could only do so much when it was a horrific fire storm,” ranch owner Derek Hunt told NBC news. “I guess you can say as it came down there on us. But at some point you know you’re defeated and you have to step back and save what you can.”
The fire also forced the evacuation of 400 animals from the Shambala Preserve, a nonprofit sanctuary for exotic creatures founded in 1983 by actress Tippi Hedren. The sanctuary was threatened seven years ago by the Station Fire, which burned 16,577 acres, destroyed 209 structures, including 89 homes, and led to the deaths of two firefighters.
Gourdikian said he hopes firefighters make quick progress in putting out the blaze and said the Police Department will do everything possible to help city workers living there.
“Our peer support unit is here for employees that need support and someone to lean on,” Gourdikian said. “Even if it is just talking them through the situation or listening to them, we are keeping the channels of communication open as much as we can.”