California wildfire's rapid growth left one family minutes to flee burning home

Chaffin Mitchell

As California wildfires continue to turn everything in their path to char and ash, thousands of evacuees return home hopeful to see their house still standing.

Jatin Bhasin, a California resident who watched the flames near his home hoping it would remain unscathed wasn't one of the lucky ones. Bhasin recalls seeing the blaze rapidly approach his house as it engulfed one thing after another.

"It was very far away, and within 30 minutes it was right behind the house," Bhasin said.

Santa Ana winds fanned the explosive growth of Saddleridge Fire in Southern California on Thursday.

The fire ignited and grew exponentially in just a matter of hours in a densely populated area just north of Los Angeles. The fire was reportedly 150 acres at 2 p.m., PDT, but just two hours later, it had grown to 500 acres, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.

"Within minutes the house was gone," Bhasin said.

According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Tyler Roys, fire in a forest can move as fast 6.7 mph and as fast as 14 mph in grasslands. The material the fire is encountering can help or hinder the speed of the fire; for example, very dry material acts as fuel for the fire and helps it spread even quicker.

"We called the fire people and it took some time before they got here. The fire came so fast they could not take anything out, absolutely nothing, just dog and people ran out. They took the car out of the garage and that was it," Bhasin said.

The Saddleridge fire has consumed 7,965 acres which included dozens of homes and buildings, as well as parts of two freeways. Containment is up to 41% as of Sunday morning, while four agencies fight to tame its growth.

The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) confirmed the Saddleridge Fire is responsible for one fatality as a one person suffered cardiac arrest and died after being taken to a local hospital. One firefighter was treated for a minor eye injury.

On Friday, at least 1,000 firefighters and eight helicopters were battling the fire. At least 31 structures have been damaged or destroyed, but officials did not specify how many were homes.

As of Saturday afternoon, all evacuations orders related to the Saddleridge Fire were lifted.

At least four more blazes continue to burn across the state of California, sparking an all-too-familiar feeling of uncertainty in some California residents.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency in Los Angeles County and Riverside County on Friday afternoon due to all of the wildfires.

Southern California Edison shut off power to more than 21,000 customers in an effort to reduce the risk of the windblown fires exploding in growth due to coming in contact with downed power lines.

The planned Public Safety Power Shutoff was smaller in scale than the one instituted by Pacific Gas & Electric in Northern California on Wednesday. About 13,000 PG&E customers remained without power on Saturday, out of the estimated 738,000 home and businesses that had electricity cut off earlier in the week.

On Friday, Newsom secured a Fire Management Assistance Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which will help make resources more readily available to fight and recover from the Saddleridge Fire.

"We thank members of the community for promptly heeding the evacuation orders and their patience as we worked to contain the fire. As you repopulate the previously evacuated areas, we ask you to remain vigilant, and drive cautiously, as there are still public safety personnel working in the area," the LAFD said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Sandalwood Fire ignited when a trash truck dumped burning garbage sparking the blaze which resulted in the loss of 76 structures thus far, mainly homes at a hilltop mobile home park, according to fire officials.

The Sandalwood Fire is responsible for two fatalities after the fire raged through a mobile home park destroying dozens of structures and sending residents fleeing on Thursday, Cal Fire spokeswoman Cathey Mattingly said.

The sheriff's department identified the first victim as 89-year-old Lois Arvikson of Calimesa. The second unidentified body was found on Saturday morning in a mobile park home in Calimesa.

In the latest update from Cal Fire on Sunday morning the flames were burning 1,011 acres and 77% contained.

Fire crews continue battling the Briceburg Fire near Yosemite National Park, which was burning 5,563 acres and 60% contained as of Sunday morning, according to CalFire.

Firefighters have a long way to go as low humidity levels and rising afternoon temperatures continue to make for difficult conditions, however, they should be able to gain ground on the ongoing blazes with winds not being nearly as strong as what fueled the firestorm.

"Fire weather conditions will improve Sunday. It will remain rather dry, but an onshore wind and lower temperatures will help to alleviate the fire threat. However, that threat is not zero," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike LeSeney said.

"The public is urged to use extreme caution with any potential fire ignition sources. Fires in the past have begun from things like discarded cigarettes, metallic lawn care and tool use, and campfires," LeSeney said.