San Diego

Man Recounts Last Words to Friend Moments Before He Died in Sand Fire

Some evacuation orders were lifted, allowing some Santa Clarita residents to return home

A man recounted the last words he spoke to his friend on the phone moments before the friend died in the ferocious Sand Fire.

James Morris said that he was on the phone with his friend, Robert Bresnick, a former U.S. Air Force engineer, just after mandatory evacuation orders were in place Saturday afternoon for a massive brush fire burning in Santa Clarita. Bresnick, 67, was inside of his car about to drive away from flames when neighbors say his car caught fire.

"He said the fire was burning in his backyard," Morris said. "I said get the hell out of there! Leave! He just hung up the phone and started to do that, I think."

Authorities on Tuesday confirmed that Bresnicks' burned body was found in a car in the driveway of a house in the Sand fire burn area.

The body was discovered at 7:20 p.m. Saturday in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon Road, said coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter. The death is the lone fatality reported in the fire zone since the wildfire broke out Friday.

An autopsy was pending to determine the cause of his death, which was being classified as an accident.

Winter said Bresnick, whose hometown was not known, was visiting a friend at the location, which had been under evacuation orders.

Meanwhile, firefighters Tuesday continued efforts to contain the fire, which has scorched 37,473 acres of drought-ravaged terrain and destroyed at least 18 homes, although conditions improved enough on Monday to lift evacuation orders for thousands of residents.

Aggressive efforts by about 3,000 firefighters have managed to slow the spread of the blaze that raged through the dry terrain from Friday to Monday, said Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Michael Pittman.

Fire officials called Monday "a better day," he said.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire was listed as 25 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service reported.

About 10,000 homes -- occupied by an estimated 20,000 residents - had been evacuated since the fire broke out on Friday afternoon near Sand Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, along the northbound Antelope Valley (14) Freeway, sheriff's Capt. Roosevelt Johnson said.

Almost all evacuation orders were lifted as of 7 p.m. Monday but remained in effect for residents of Placerita Canyon Road from Running Horse Lane to Pacy Street, and along Little Tujunga Road from the Wildlife Waystation to Sand Canyon Road and Placerita Canyon Road.

LACFD Chief Daryl Osby had lamented the unwillingness of some residents to follow evacuation orders, saying some fire crews encountered residents while heading into the fire zone.

"They were surprised to see citizens there," Osby said. "The citizens were there trying to evacuate, trying to get animals out. At the same time they (firefighters) are trying to go in and protect homes, they felt that they lost additional structures because they had to stop what they were doing to help citizens evacuate."

According to the California Highway Patrol, some law enforcement personnel standing guard at closed streets were nearly run over by people driving carelessly as they tried to get back to their homes.

Fire and law enforcement officials repeatedly urged residents to evacuate when ordered, or even earlier.

"If you see smoke and fire coming in your direction, don't wait for a police officer or a deputy or a firefighter to say go," LACFD Deputy Chief John Tripp said.

NBC4 Wire Services contributed to this report.

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