A plume of smoke is seen from the 210 Freeway as a brush fire burns in the Verdugo Mountains in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Los Angeles County under state of emergency
02:18 - Source: CNN

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Bulldozers and hand crews scramble to cut fire lines before wind rekindles fire

La Tuna fire is 30% contained, but fire officials expect number to increase

CNN  — 

They’re the words anxious suburban Los Angeles residents have wanted to hear: “no active fire left.”

But the man who spoke them Monday, Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas, also warned that the winds could easily rekindle the La Tuna fire that burned 7,000 acres over the weekend.

By Monday afternoon, La Tuna’s cinders smoldering near Burbank remained 30% contained, though fire officials were optimistic the figure would grow. The steep terrain and earlier weather conditions posed challenges to fighting the blaze, fire officials said.

Firefighters were working through the night to fight the blaze, officials said Monday.

Terrazas said bulldozers and hand crews would work to clear a line – removing all brush and other fuel the blaze would need to keep burning – from the remaining perimeter around the fire in the foothills north of Los Angeles.

The bulldozers will also work to clear catchment basins that help prevent flooding, he said.

Interstate 210, a major thoroughfare, was reopened after being partially closed since Friday, and Terrazas warned drivers that they might experience hand crews working on the outside lanes of the highway.

Cautious optimism

The fire forced officials to close part of Interstate 210 on Friday.

Monday’s weather was working in firefighters’ favor. It was overcast with a high of 86 Fahrenheit, relative humidity of 40% to 45% and winds moving at 10 mph or less.

“As long as the weather continues to cooperate, I’m very confident and convinced we’ll be fine,” Terrazas said.

Terrazas predicted the fire’s acreage, which he said makes La Tuna the worst fire Los Angeles has seen since the 1961 Bel Air blaze, would “increase slightly” in coming days.

(Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti previously tweeted that the La Tuna fire was the largest, acreage-wise, in the city’s history, but it appears the Sylmar, or Sayre, fire of 2008 was larger than both La Tuna and Bel Air.)

While firefighters faced issues with the winds making the fire unpredictable Sunday, they also had problems with a “drone incursion,” the chief said.

The drone was turned over to law enforcement, he said, and authorities are looking to arrest the owner. Terrazas reminded residents that if fire crews detect a drone in the air, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are grounded and can’t be used in the firefighting effort.

“If a drone is in the air, we cannot fly,” he said. “A drone hitting a rotor blade can bring down a helicopter.”

Evacuation orders lifted

Firefighters have been battling the blaze since last week.

California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for Los Angeles County on Sunday. His declaration allows state personnel and equipment to be used in fighting the fires, at the direction of the California Office of Emergency Services.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said in a statement 6.30 p.m. local time (9:30 p.m. ET) that the fire was 25% contained. All mandatory and voluntary evacuations had been formally lifted, it said, and a section of interstate closed due to fire and smoke had reopened. Four firefighters had non-life-threatening injuries.

Fire officials said eight people suffered non-life-threatening injuries: Four firefighters had heat-related illnesses. One firefighter incurred minor burns and another had an allergic reaction to a beesting. One civilian suffered a heat-related illness and another civilian was treated for a minor eye injury.

Firefighters are also experiencing some fatigue, the fire chief said.

More than 1,000 firefighters from the immediate region and throughout California are battling the fire, which has destroyed three homes and damaged one other, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said during a press conference Sunday. Burbank is in Los Angeles County.

There are 206 fire engines and nine helicopters dedicated to fighting the fire, Terrazas said.

State of emergency

A Super Scooper CL-415 firefighting aircraft from Canada is helping protect homes.

The fire started Friday and tore through the La Tuna Canyon Park area of the Verdugo Mountains, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a declaration of local emergency on Saturday that instructed all city agencies to “take all necessary steps to protect life and property in the area” affected by what is now the largest fire the city has ever seen.

“The La Tuna Canyon Fire is an emergency that requires all available resources to protect our residents and keep our homes and other structures out of harm’s way,” Garcetti said in a statement.

Rain on Sunday was a mixed blessing, Terraza said, as it brought much needed moisture, but also strong winds that have blown the fire around.

At least 100 firefighters who were sent to Houston to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts were heading back to California to help with the fire, Terrazas said.

Hot temperatures and high winds on Friday in the Los Angeles area contributed to the “large plume growth and extreme fire behavior,” the National Weather Service office in Los Angeles said.

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Dakin Andone, Nicole Chavez and Darran Simon contributed to this report.