Saddleridge fire is 19% contained; growth slows

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The Saddleridge Fire in the northern San Fernando Valley slowly grew overnight to 7,552 acres, though calm winds heading into Saturday morning helped to significantly slow its growth, officials said.

The wildfire that began Thursday was 19% contained Saturday morning, with fire crews focusing on the Newhall Pass area in Placerita Canyon and Calgrove Boulevard where it meets Interstate-5, said Chris Reade, L.A. County Fire Department spokesman.

The potential for additional growth remains if the winds kick up again Saturday afternoon.

“The weather has helped but the biggest risk factor is low relative humidity and the chances of afternoon winds,” said Andrew Mitchell of the Angeles National Forest.

An investigation into the cause of the fire could take weeks, Mitchell said.

Wind conditions Saturday shifted toward a prevailing direction out of the southwest, as opposed to the dry northeast wind conditions that fueled the fire on Thursday and Friday, and fire officials were hopeful the blaze would be brought further under control Saturday.

Gusts were expected to pick up in the afternoon, however, so firefighters were still being cautious, Reade said.

“It’s going to be a few days before we can get ahead of it especially with the winds being what they are today compared to what they’ve been,” Reade said. “We are expecting gusts today but right now it’s calm so we are taking advantage of that with the aircraft.”

Helicopters using night vision worked with crews on the ground and fixed-wing aircraft that dropped fire retardant throughout the night to bring the fire further under control, Reade said.

Evacuation orders for roughly 23,000 homes were still in effect, though fire officials said they were meeting Saturday morning to discuss in what areas residents could be let back into their neighborhoods possibly later today. Twenty-five homes have burned so far with no reports of additional homes igniting overnight.

“We have our damage assessment teams in the area and they are seeing if there are any additional homes that have burned in day one and we are still waiting to hear back from them,” Reade said.

Hundreds of firefighters and law enforcement officers from agencies throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties gathered at a command center at the Hansen Dam Recreation Center before fanning out across the area around 8 a.m.

Among the first responders was Greg Stenmo, fuels technician with the National Forest Service, who worked with crews early Friday morning at 2 a.m. to help rescue several horses at the Oakridge Manufactured Home Community in Sylmar.

With residents in the area evacuated, Stenmo and the crew expanded a makeshift corral for the horses so they could move around within a 3-acre area.

“We had to untie them so they could run loose,” he said.

The horses were making a lot of noise and one of them was more interested in eating then fleeing, he said.

“I’m glad we were able to help,” Stenmo said. “We’re feeling great. A lot of hard work went on and it’s paying off. The one concern we have today is the wind, which has shifted, so we have to watch our fire lines.”

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