Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for KPCC comes from:

Sand Fire: California declares state of emergency in Los Angeles County

Evacuations | Air quality | Cloud plumes

California Gov. Jerry Brown is at the Democratic National Convention, so acting Gov. Tom Torlakson was the one who issued an emergency declaration for Los Angeles County due to the Sand Fire. He also issued an emergency proclamation for Monterey County due to the Soberanes fire.

The announcement from the governor's office notes that the fires have burned tens of thousands of acres, threatened thousands of homes and other structures and caused evacuations.

The declaration clears the way for additional help when it comes to fighting the Sand Fire.

Earlier Tuesday, Los Angeles County Supervisors declared a local state of emergency for the Sand Fire.

The wildfire in Santa Clarita has torn through more than 58 square miles of dry brush, burned 18 homes and temporarily displaced about 20,000 people in Santa Clarita.

The move from the county allowed Gov. Jerry Brown to direct the state to take formal action to assist the county.


“This will provide the reimbursements for firefighting personnel because we have personnel from all over California in the Santa Clarita Valley and Antelope Valley fighting this fire,” said County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. “It will provide assistance for those who had their homes and property damaged.”

Once containment is reached, that funding will be used to create a relief center where those impacted by the fire can access all of the various services available to them, Antonovich told KPCC ahead of the vote.

Fire Tracker: Sand Fire in Los Angeles County

Firefighters aided by calm winds and cool night air managed to tighten their hold on the fire, increasing containment to 25 percent by Tuesday morning.

Those calmer winds and higher humidity levels slowed the fire's growth, said Ralph Gonzales, a fire information officer and former member of the Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team 3.

Winds that had gusted to as high as 25 mph on Sunday along ridge lines slowed considerably on Monday.

Firefighting efforts also benefitted from a boost in personnel and resources.

More than 3,000 personnel were stationed outside the fire area by the end of the day Monday.

Tuesday after 11 a.m. is a period that fire crews are paying attention to, Gonzales said. Lower humidity, continued high temperatures and terrain will all influence the fire, he said.

Ridgetop winds are expected to strengthen and shift to the southwest this afternoon, according to Tuesday's briefing. With gusts from 15 mph to 30 mph, analysts expect the fire to be more active Tuesday.

That increased activity could be on the east side, where authorities said the fire is moving towards Messenger Peak and Mount Gleeson.

Jay Nichols, with the Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team, said authorities are expecting minimal spread on the north side of the fire. The west side of the fire still has the potential to impact Sand Canyon and Placerita Canyon, he said.

Evacuation orders are still in place for those two communities. Almost everyone else is being allowed back home.

The county is seeking ways to lease or acquire more aerial firefighting equipment. The county currently has a contract for the use of four Canada-based Super Scoopers, massive amphibious planes that can scoop up and then drop more than 1,000 gallons of water without having to land. But the aircraft won’t be available for another month, when fire season ends in Canada.

“The contract is from September through January, and those were the fire seasons of the past, but now we have a fire season 52 weeks out of the year,” Antonovich said.

The county is considering different approaches to extend that coverage, including a year-round lease, hiring them directly, or creating a joint-powers authority to share the cost among different municipalities, Antonovich said.

The county has bumped up a lease for a helitanker, which should be available Monday, he said.

Authorities meanwhile have identified a man they say was killed in the Sand Fire.

The body of 67-year-old Robert Bresnick was discovered in a burned-out car outside a home on Saturday. The L.A. County Coroner identified Bresnick Tuesday.

Bresnick was at a friend's house when officials ordered evacuations for the area, according to Ed Winter, assistant chief at the L.A. County Coroner's Office.

"He ignored the fire department's orders to evacuate, and went back in the house, then came out and got in his car, and apparently the fire overtook the vehicle," Winter told KPCC.

Bresnick's friend successfully evacuated, but Bresnick was declared dead at the scene. Winter said an autopsy is pending.


While most residents have been told they can return to their homes, officials warned a few areas are still closed.

The areas still under evacuation include:

  • Placerita Canyon Road from Running Horse Lane to Pacy Street
  • Little Tujunga Canyon Road from the Wildlife Way Station to Sand Canyon Road & Placerita Canyon Road
  • Aqua Dulce Canyon Road from 1/4 mile south of the 14 Freeway to Soledad Canyon Road
  • Soledad Canyon Road 1 mile from Aqua Dulce Road in both directions

Air quality

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a revised smoke advisory Tuesday, warning that the areas most affected will be Acton and into the Antelope Valley.

The smoke will likely move toward the north and northeast through the night and could settle in the valley overnight, according to AQMD.

The following areas are most likely to have unhealthy air because of smoke from the Sand Fire:

  • Portions of the Santa Clarita Valley
  • Portions of the San Gabriel Mountains

A computer model from the U.S. Forest Service shows how the smoke is projected to move through the region from Tuesday to Thursday:

You can read more about the agency’s model here.

You can also find AQMD’s interactive air quality map here.

Cloud plumes

Nearby residents and others driving down Highway 14 have noticed sporadic surges of smoke in the air above the burn area. On Tuesday morning a giant plume was visible from the Santa Clarita Incident Command Center.

A large cloud plume appears above the Santa Clarita Incident Command Center July 26, 2016.
Chris Keller/KPCC
A large cloud plume appears above the Santa Clarita Incident Command Center July 26, 2016.

Those plumes aren’t necessarily cause for panic, however. Jay Nichols, a spokesperson for the Southern California Interagency Incident Management Team told KPCC. They’re the result of shifting winds on “unburned islands of fuel” – that is, patches of unburnt vegetation within the larger fire perimeter.

“When wind conditions change, it can help those islands burn or help consume the combustibles in those islands,” he said.

Sometimes those large clouds – officially termed “pyrocumulus clouds” – can also be the result of fire crews’ burn operations, in which they intentionally set controlled fires to those unburned vegetation patches inside the fire area to choke off any “fuel” the larger fire may have to feed on. One cloud that rose into the sky Monday evening was the result of those controlled fires, Nichols said.

More of these plumes may be visible over the next several days as firefighters continue to battle the blaze. “But a the fire behavior diminishes, this will become less common,” Nichols said.

This story has been updated.