by David DeMullé
What started as a small, 25-acre fire in Canyon Country blasted out into a fire that has ravaged some 38,300 acres and burned up the news channels for four days.
Life continued as normal in Sunland-Tujunga as people complained about the heat, the smoke and the ashes that covered everything. Behind the scenes, however, is a small group of determined volunteers who were mobilized by local organizations such as the Foothills Trails Neighborhood Council and social media. These brave people have rallied together to save the animals at the Wildlife Way Station as well as people who were in the path of what has been named the Sand Fire.
On the TV news, it took a day before the realization that a small fire in Canyon Country was blowing up to become the monumental inferno that came over the Bear Divide. By the time it was understood what was happening, the Sand Fire was endangering not only the residents and their animals, but that it was crossing over into Lopez and Kagel Canyons — and was heading toward Sunland-Tujunga.
With the realization of the great blaze’s direction, it was announced that the immediate problem was to rescue the more than 400 animals in the Wildlife Way Station. The call went out for volunteers who had trailers, cages and trucks for transport of the animals to evacuation centers such as the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, Pierce College, Agua Dulce Airport, Van Nuys Airport and Wayside Honor Rancho in Castaic.
(What this reporter discovered was that one didn’t just walk in and put a leashes on exotic animals to walk them out to waiting trucks. Each type of animal had its own special needs. Helping to move 500-pound hogs from a burnt-out ranch near Bear Divide proved to be an adventure in itself —and can be seen on the Foothills Paper’s Web site at www.facebook. com/TheFoothillsPaper)
The Red Cross setup three shelters and began distributing emergency supplies from the Lake View Terrace Recreational Park as well as Hart High School in Santa Clarita. “There was so much support from the locals,” said Director of Communications John Meyers, “that the volume of donations was so much that we were overloaded.”
By the second day, mandatory evacuations were in place and between 200 and 300 homes were evacuated, most of which were on the Little Tujunga Road between Bear Divide and Gold Creek in the Angeles National Forest north of Lake View Terrace. Evacuations were mandated for all residents in Sand Canyon from Lost Canyon to Bear Divide as well as in Placerita Canyon from the Nature Center to Sand Canyon.
By day three, more than 10,000 homes were under evacuation orders as fire retardant aircraft began painting the mountains with their red Foscheck. Highway 14 was closed to all but emergency vehicles;a surreal quiet was felt throughout the fire zone.
The LAPD, California Highway Patrol, L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. and even L.A. Unified School District police were brought in to provide traffic patrol and neighborhood protection in the affected areas. In Lake View Terrace, Foothill Boulevard at Osborne Street was lined up with every conceivable form of transportation, yet a relaxed atmosphere among the volunteer drivers belied the stress of knowing that just a couple of miles away, the forest was aflame. In Acton, more than 200 fire and police vehicles amassed on Via Princessa awaiting deployment.
Then, just as fast as it started, the Sand Fire changed direction and headed up towards Acton. The local emergency was over and it was now time to return those animals that still had a home to which to return. Once again, volunteers stepped in and made the community whole again.