Palisades Fire Containment Increases to 66%; School Reopens

No structures have been lost, and the only injury has been a minor eye injury to a firefighter, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said.

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Containment of the 1,158-acre Palisades Fire increased to 66% Wednesday and Topanga Elementary Charter School was reopened after being closed due to air quality and safety concerns.

"Crews continue to assault the fire by air and by ground, to continue increasing containment," Nicholas Prange of the Los Angeles Fire Department said late Wednesday morning.

The fire in rugged terrain was 47% contained Tuesday.

No structures have been lost, and the only injury has been a minor eye injury to a firefighter, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said. About 450 firefighters were assigned to the fire lines.

Topanga Canyon Boulevard was reopened to the public at 1 p.m. Tuesday, when officials also lifted an evacuation warning that had been issued Sunday for all homes north of Chastain Parkway in the 1500 block to Calle Del Cielo.

The warning area included Calle De Sarah, Calle Bellevista and all homes west of Calle Del Cielo and Ave Ashley up to the hills.

About 1,000 Topanga Canyon-area residents who were evacuated over the weekend were allowed to return home Monday evening, and the LAFD announced at about 8:40 p.m. Tuesday that all evacuation orders had been lifted.

Crews on the ground were aided by water-dropping helicopters and three fixed-wing retardant-dropping aircraft.

Mayor Eric Garcetti noted that crews had to contend with "challenging terrain," adding that it had been "about 75 years since we've had a fire there. Some of the brush is 20 to 30 feet high."

Terrazas warned hikers to stay away from the area while the firefighting effort was underway.

Air-quality officials extended a smoke advisory through Wednesday afternoon due to large amounts of smoke billowing near homes in the area, and advised those who smell smoke or see ash to limit exposure by remaining indoors with windows and doors closed and avoiding vigorous physical activity.

The Los Angeles Fire Department was involved in a unified command with the Los Angeles County Fire Department and Cal Fire until Wednesday morning, when the LAFD was listed as the lead agency, with the other two organizations listed as assisting agencies.

Meanwhile, Ramon Santos Rodriguez, a 48-year-old homeless man, was charged Tuesday in connection with the blaze. He faces one felony count each of arson of a structure or forest, and arson during a state of emergency.

Rodriguez pleaded not guilty and was ordered held in lieu of $350,000 bail while awaiting a June 1 hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial.

Firefighters were sent to the 1800 block of Michael Lane to battle the flames after the fire was reported at 10 p.m. Friday. Just after midnight, LAFD arson investigators were sent to the scene to determine the origin and cause of the fire, and due to the inaccessible terrain and darkness, gathered preliminary information and returned the next day.

On Saturday morning, LAFD helicopter pilots saw a man moving around in the brush along a steep hillside near the fire, and a Los Angeles Police Department air patrol was dispatched to monitor him. Police officers kept watch on the ground while the LAPD Air Support Division "provided eyes in the sky," the LAFD reported.

"During an aerial observation, the Tactical Flight Officer witnessed the individual ignite multiple additional fires," the LAFD said.

LAFD arson investigators requested assistance from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Emergency Services Detail to find and apprehend the suspect in the rugged terrain.

"Deputies were lowered into the brush to begin their search," the LAFD reported. "Because the fires were growing rapidly, deputies were forced to retreat."

At about 11 a.m. Sunday, according to the LAFD, the man emerged from the brush in the 1200 block of Palisades Drive, and a "private security officer in the area recognized the person as a possible suspect and notified LAPD and LAFD, (and) police officers arrived and detained the suspect."

He was ultimately booked on suspicion of arson after receiving medical treatment, reportedly for smoke inhalation.

City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is running for mayor in 2022, said the arrest shows the danger of the city's ongoing homelessness crisis.

"Our homelessness crisis is destroying neighborhoods and endangering the lives of the housed and unhoused," Buscaino said. "Over 60% of the fires that the LAFD has responded to this year have been related to homelessness.

"Allowing unregulated sprawling encampments is not compassionate, it's reckless. That's why we must act now on passing regulations that will return the rights of every Angeleno to enjoy our public spaces, and prohibit encampments whenever people are offered shelter. We must support safe and clean sidewalks, parks and beaches. We must support a livable city where we can raise our children without being subjected rampant crime on our streets."

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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