What had been a relatively tame fire season abruptly ended Wednesday as a brush fire exploded near Castaic, prompting evacuations and the complete closure of the 5 Freeway.
As of 8 p.m., the Route Fire had scorched 4,600 acres of primarily dry grass and brush.
Eight firefighters suffered heat-related injuries as crews struggled with not only the intensity of the fire but also the effects of 100-degree temperatures as a heat wave developed over much of Southern California.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department said six of those firefighters required hospitalization.
“We’re really at Day One of a 9 to 10-day, fairly extreme heat period,” Deputy Chief Tom Ewald of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said at a media briefing Wednesday evening. “If you can imagine wearing heavy firefighting gear, carrying packs, dragging hose, swinging tools…the folks out there are just taking a beating.”
Hundreds of firefighters attempted to dig containment lines as helicopters and planes attacked the fire from above with water and flame retardant.
There was no containment Wednesday evening.
The cause of the fire was unknown.
Approximately 100-200 homes were evacuated in areas north of Lake Hughes Road, south of Templin Highway, west of the Castaic lagoon, and east of the 5 Freeway, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.
At 9:35 p.m., evacuation orders were “lifted south of Northlake Hills Elementary School (Northlake, Stone Gate, Castaic Road),” the LASD said on Twitter.
The evacuation orders remain north of the school, as well as in Paradise Valley and the areas previously evacuated.
The Red Cross established an evacuation center at Frazier Mountain High School, located at 700 Falcon Way in Lebec. Small animals could be taken to the Castaic Animal Shelter, located at 31044 North Charlie Canyon Road.
The fire was initially reported around noon near northbound lanes of the 5 Freeway north of Lake Hughes Road, according to the Angeles National Forest.
By 1:30 p.m. the fire had jumped to the other side of the 5 Freeway and was burning on both sides of the interstate, prompting California Highway Patrol to close all lanes of travel.
Northbound traffic on the interstate was being turned around via a median gate.
By 9 p.m., the northbound 5 Freeway remained closed at Lake Hughes Road, while southbound traffic was closed at Vista Del Lago, Caltrans said on Twitter.
“Unknown duration. NB backup 4.1 miles. SB backup 3.1 miles. Seek alternate routes,” the agency added.
Alternatives included the northbound 14 Freeway or the westbound 126 Freeway to the northbound 101 Freeway.
Southbound traffic was being diverted from the eastbound 138 Freeway to the southbound 14 Freeway to reach the 5 Freeway in Santa Clarita.
Air Quality Concerns
Dark, black smoke could be seen for miles, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory.
“Overall, the air quality is not expected to degrade beyond Moderate except in areas close to the fire, where Unhealthy conditions may be possible for several hours. Additional portions of Central Los Angeles County may also be affected by smoke from the Route Fire. However, in the afternoon hours, high levels of ozone caused by the current heat wave and unrelated to the fire may also lead to poor air quality in the region,” the AQMD said in a press release.
Check back for updates on this developing story.