5,000 Acres Ravaged in Porter Ranch Brush Fire

PORTER RANCH, Calif. -- A brush fire tore through more than 5,000 acres near oil fields on Oat Mountain north of the Porter Ranch area Monday, prompting evacuations as flames marched toward residential neighborhoods.

Windier conditions expected Monday evening into Tuesday morning threatened to have the fire cross the Ventura (101) Freeway and burn to the Pacific Ocean or head deeper into Ventura County, said Brian Humphrey of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The fire had already crossed the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway, Humphrey said.

"We are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us,'' Humphrey said. "It depends on the winds. In this situation, wind is king. The winds could even be benevolent.''

Firefighters were sent to the area north of the 12800 block of Tampa Avenue at about 10 a.m., Humphrey said. Heavy winds quickly pushed the fire, dubbed the Sesnon fire, southwest toward residential areas in Porter Ranch.

A phone system was set up Monday to help residents stay informed during the attack on the Sesnon Fire , said Los Angeles County Fire Captain Armando Hogan.

Traffic, evacuation, shelter information hot line: 1-800-439-2909

The number also contains information about the Marek Fire.  In response to the various wildfires, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department initially reported that the Twin Lakes and Indian Hills communities were being evacuated. City fire officials later reported that evacuations were ordered in Box Canyon, Woolsey Canyon, Bell Canyon, Lake Manor, Dayton Canyon, Browns Canyon and an area in the city north of Bell Canyon and west of Valley Circle Boulevard.

Due to heavy smoke, Cal State Northridge canceled all classes Monday.

In a fatality that can likely be attributed to the fire, one person was killed in a fiery collision on the Ronald Regan (118) Freeway just east of DeSoto Avenue -- on an area of the roadway that was inundated by thick black smoke as the fire spread and jumped the freeway.

The cause of the car wreck was not immediately known, but it was reported at 12:27 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.

The 118 Freeway was shut down early Monday afternoon in both directions from Reseda Boulevard west to the Ventura County line.

It was unclear how many structures were damaged, although video taken by television helicopter crews showed flames burning into some backyards, burning decks and advancing toward homes. ABC7 reported that structures at the former Nike missile site in the Santa Susana Pass were destroyed. Those structures are generally unoccupied, although the station reported that the LAPD often uses the facility for SWAT training.

"It's a very dangerous situation," county fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said.

One longtime Porter Ranch resident who evacuated his home reported that the smoke was "so thick, you could cut it with a knife."

"You couldn't breathe there," Randy Stalk said. "It was horrible."

Stalk reported seeing one Porter Ranch home in flames.

Several "suspicious" fires involving a few acres were reported Monday at various areas in the county, some near the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway, Freeman said. He urged people to call authorities if they see anything suspicious.

"And our concern is to protect life, and property, and then to try to do our very best to keep that fire from getting through the Susana pass or making a run down toward Pacific Coast, and again, that is a real possibility with the wind conditions," Freeman said.

"... There are homes in there, there is some ranch property," he said. "The information we're getting is that a lot of the fuel over there is considered to be light to medium brush ... but in the wind conditions, of course, that makes the fire move very rapidly, and it's a very dangerous situation over that that firefighters are contending with."

Three water-dropping helicopters helped battle flames, and ground crews positioned themselves between the flames and homes.

Humphrey said the fire was originally reported in the oil fields on the mountain, which is home to radio and broadcast towers.

"There are historic oil leases in the area, and known to many Los Angeles trivia buffs, this area is the site of one of the nation's largest underground natural gas storage areas," he told ABC7. "In mentioning that, I want to stress very strongly that the underground natural storage gas area is not in any danger from the fire at this time, nor are the historic oil leases in the area."

Humphrey also told the station that the new homes in the Porter Ranch area were built to modern fire standards, putting them at less risk.

"Of course, this is a wildfire and everyone in this neighborhood needs to keep their fingers on the status of this fire and be prepared to evacuate in a calm and orderly fashion if that order comes through," he said.

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