What to Know
- The Route Fire began Wednesday afternoon in Castaic and continues to spread.
- All evacuation orders have been lifted, and the two evacuation shelters established for the fire are closing.
- High temperatures during a Southern California heatwave, winds and dry brush from a long, hot summer may create a perfect storm of conditions for the fire to grow.
In under 24 hours, a brush fire sparked along the 5 Freeway in Castaic has spread over thousands of acres, prompted mandatory evacuations and injured some of the firefighters attempting to beat the fire back.
The Route Fire has burned 5,208 acres as of 7:28 a.m. Friday, and is now 37% contained, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The cause is still unknown.
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Some homes in the path of the fire have already been scorched down to the ground. With evacuation orders lifted late Thursday, the two evacuation shelters are closing.
By Thursday afternoon, fire commanders told NBCLA that there were positive improvements.
By Friday afternoon, officials said Castaic Lake would be reopening Saturday for Labor Day weekend.
Despite that, fire officials also underscore how dire the fire threat is in drought-stricken California.
"The fire behavior and what you saw yesterday should be a wakeup call to us all," said Chief Robert Garcia with the Angeles National Forest.
As of Thursday night, all evacuation orders were lifted.
Evacuations were ordered in these areas:
- Paradise Ranch Mobile Estates
- All homes and businesses south of Templin Highway along Upper Ridge Route Road
- Structures north of Lake Hughes Road, east of the Golden Station (5) Freeway
- West of Castaic Lagoon
- North of Northlake Elementary School
Staff and students at Northlake Elementary School on campus Wednesday afternoon were also told to evacuate due to the fire.
All residents were ordered to begin evacuating to the north, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff said.
Old Ridge Route Road between Templin Highway and Northlake Hills Elementary was reopened, but only for residents. Residents would be required to show IDs.
As of Friday morning, the two shelters opened for those fleeing the fire are closing, the Red Cross announced on Twitter.
Evacuation centers were set up at West Ranch High School in Santa Clarita. The shelter was supported by the Red Cross.
The Frazier Mountain High School shelter in Lebec had been closed Thursday afternoon.
Anyone who is evacuating with small or large animals may take them to the Castaic Animal Shelter while evacuation orders are still in effect.
The evacuation route for people leaving the area was clogged and chaotic, accoriding to at least one woman.
"The freeways are closed, they won't let anyone through, so I'm stuck right here," said Keyonda Romero-Deras, a resident in the area. "And if I walk, it's only a freeway, and it's only mountains. So I'm gonna walk into the fire. I don't really know, but I don't have a car, I don't have any way to get out."
The flames forced a full closure of the 5 Freeway -- the main north-south route between Southern and Northern California through the state's Central Valley -- on Wednesday night.
The northbound lanes of the 5 Freeway reopened around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, but the first and fourth lanes of the southbound side were still blocked "for an unknown duration of time" from Templin Highway to the area north of Lake Hughes Road around 4:30 a.m.
As of Thursday at 10 a.m., one northbound lane was open, and two lanes are open on the southbound side. More lanes will open when fire personnel have cleared out of the area on the side of the road, and it is safe to open more lanes.
Officials warned that while lanes were open, there would be significant traffic delays.
The Route Fire began as a brush fire on Wednesday afternoon around 1:30 p.m., and was reported near Lake Hughes Road. It's not yet known how the fire started.
In under 24 hours, it has consumed 5,208 acres of land. As of Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m., it is 12% contained.
According to LA County Fire Department Deputy Chief Tom Ewald, the extremely high temperatures in Southern California during this week's heat, and the winds blowing through the region, have played into the fire's fast spread.
Ewald confirmed Wednesday night that there were eight firefighters who suffered heat-related injuries. Six were taken to the hospital, but as of Thursday all of them have been released from the hospital and are doing well.
There were at least 255 firefighters from the LA County Fire Department battling the fire as of Wednesday evening.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a smoke advisory that will be in effect until at least Thursday afternoon due to the smoke plumes.
Heat Wave, Dry Conditions
The fire is burning at the start of what's expected to be on of the warmest stretches of the year in Southern California. Temperatures in the 90s and 100s are in the forecast through Labor Day weekend.
The hottest temperatures are expected Sunday and Monday. Widespread triple-digit heat will blanket valleys and inland areas.
Midday temperatures in Castaic on Wednesday were around 100 degrees. Winds were at 13 to 17 mph.
On Thursday, temperatures were expected to reach 112 degrees. Winds are also expected to return.
The heat wave will continue into the Labor Day weekend.
Fuel moisture levels are well below historic averages in parts of Southern California, meaning vegetation is drying out more quickly this year. Dry vegetation is one significant factor in the spread of wildfires.
The state is coming of one of its driest late winters on record, leaving hillsides covered in dry brush.
California continues to face longer wildfire seasons as a direct result of climate change, according to CAL FIRE.