Dee Carter of Aurora, Colo., parked his big rig by the side of the 118 Freeway in Los Angeles to wait out the massive traffic jam caused by the Saddleridge Fire that as of Friday afternoon had already consumed 7,500 acres in northwest Los Angeles County.
He was one of hundreds of truckers waylaid by wind-driven wildfires, unable to get past highway patrol checkpoints on some of the region’s busiest interstates and freeways, including the 5, 405, 210, 118. The 118 reopened in the early afternoon, but the 210 remained closed in both directions from the 118 to the 5, and the 5 was closed from Calgrove, including truck lanes.
The main thoroughfares used by both commuters and truckers, and connecting Southern California to the rest of the state were closed by the fires Friday morning, cutting off highway access through Los Angeles and jamming surface streets.
Only the 101 Freeway remained completely open to drivers coming from the Central Valley or Bay Area.
UPDATE #SaddleridgeFire closures:— Caltrans District 7 (@CaltransDist7) October 11, 2019
SB 5 at Calgrove Bl
NB 5 at Rte 118
SB 14 at Newhall
WB 210 at 118
NB 405 at 118
EB 118 connector to WB 210
EB 118 connector to NB 405
118 in both directions
NB 5 connector to EB 118 @CaltransD5 @CaltransDist6
“Everybody’s packages are going to be late," Carter said wistfully, noting that he was hauling Amazon deliveries from a warehouse in Fontana, Calif., on the way to Sacramento.
In the hour that he had been idle, Carter said he had been busy trying to reroute his way around the closures. No luck. Instead, just as he was settling down to make steak and eggs in his sleeper cab for breakfast, the freeway reopened.
'If you can work from home today it’s probably the best thing to do'
Meanwhile, in the big rig behind Carter, Pedro Esquivel of Long Beach, Calif., was having a tough time of it. He had been stuck by the side of the freeway since 4 a.m. He was trying to get an empty shipping container to Bakersfield, Calif., about 90 miles north.
“They stopped it right there,” he said, nodding toward the traffic backup in front of him. “My plan is to wait until they open the freeway.” A few minutes later, they did and the truckers took off. But in other areas across the busy Los Angeles highway system, many would have to continue waiting.
“Unfortunately with how [the trucks are] are, they can’t take some of the two-lane roads because they can’t navigate them,” says California Highway Patrol Officer Josh Greengard, adding that Interstate 5, both northbound and southbound, was still closed, along with parts of the 210 Freeway, the 118 Freeway, and smaller highways connecting them.
Commuters trying to navigate the Friday morning traffic, typically heavy at this time of day, were being re-routed to smaller two-lane roads too narrow for trucks to pass through.
Amy Chaverri and her son were on their way from Disneyland back home to Rancho Cordova near Sacramento when her navigation app rerouted her off the northbound Interstate 5 and onto a surface street in Pacoima.
“It’s funny because I had been thinking all week ‘at least we’re not home during the power outage up north’ and then there’s this fire here today. I didn’t even realize there was a fire until we got here and saw the freeway closure.”
Greengard added that CHP is advising drivers to avoid the roads in the area. Even as the flames die down or shift away from the freeway, emergency personnel need access to the throughways and space to ensure they can fight the fire, and the agency is hoping to limit traffic incidents on local roads.
He said CHP is working to open freeways as soon as possible, but the fast-moving fire continues to be a threat. As of Friday afternoon, the fire was 13% contained, consuming 800 acres an hour. Nearly 100,000 people are under mandatory evacuations and 13,000 homes are threatened in Southern California's San Fernando Valley.
Twenty-five structures have already been damaged or destroyed.
“If you can work from home today it’s probably the best thing to do. Or if you can take a vacation day — I know not a lot of people can do that,” he said. “But, logistically, where the fire is at, it’s going to be very difficult to keep the roads open.”
Erin Rode of the Ventura County Star contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Saddleridge Fire shuts down freeways, creating a traffic nightmare in LA