100,000 Flee as Wind-Driven Wildfire Scorches LA County

Jerry Rowe uses a garden hose to save his home on Beaufait Avenue from the Saddleridge fire in Granada Hills, Calif., on Friday. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

(CN) – Wildfires kicked up across multiple counties in Southern California on Friday, with one blaze whipped to 7,500 acres in northwest Los Angeles by strong Santa Ana winds that show no signs of slowing down moving into the weekend.

Nearly 100,000 people in the San Fernando Valley fled their homes overnight as the Saddleridge Fire ripped through the area. The blaze began around 9 p.m. Thursday in the Sylmar neighborhood in Los Angeles County, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

At least 25 homes have been destroyed, but that figure is expected to grow. Fire officials declared the Saddleridge Fire a major emergency Friday morning. Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in LA and Riverside counties Friday afternoon.

Some 500 firefighters are on the scene battling the fire, and officials expect strong winds to continue fanning the flames over the weekend. Friday morning saw gusts of between 40 and 50 mph throughout the fire zone, according to the National Weather Service.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said the fire was booming by Friday morning, growing at 800 acres per hour. Containment grew to 13% by Friday afternoon and the cause is under investigation.

The fire burned through hillsides in the Porter Ranch neighborhood, about a mile north of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. The facility experienced as massive gas blowout in October 2015 that sent more than 100,000 pounds of methane into the region for several weeks, driving 8,000 people from their homes.

Nine schools in the San Fernando Valley area were closed by Friday morning, along with a juvenile courthouse in Sylmar and several major highways. The fire also claimed its first victim, when a man fleeing the blaze went into cardiac arrest and died.

Meanwhile, 90 miles to the east in Riverside County the Sandalwood Fire has charred 823 acres and 76 homes, most of them in a mobile home park near Calimesa. One woman was killed and two people are missing in the blaze, which is 10% contained as of Friday afternoon.

Authorities say the Sandalwood Fire ignited when a trash truck dumped a smoldering load near the 10 Freeway. Arson investigators are looking into how the load caught fire.

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