Residents Return for Belongings at Fire-Ravaged Mobile Home Park | NBC New York

Residents Return for Belongings at Fire-Ravaged Mobile Home Park



    Nov. 17, 2008

    Some residents of a Sylmar mobile home park devastated by the Sayre fire were allowed home briefly Monday to recover belongings, while fire crews continued to attack the flames that so far have charred more than 11,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of structures.

    Monday night Los Angeles police urged Oakridge residents to call them at (213) 485-2121 and give them the names of everyone who lived in their units in order to confirm that everyone is safe.

    The blaze -- which was 64 percent contained Monday night -- started about 10:30 p.m. Friday along Sayre Street in Sylmar, just north of the Foothill (210) Freeway. The cause has not been determined.

    Five firefighters and one civilian were injured, none seriously, said Ron Myers of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

    After daybreak Monday, police began escorting some residents of the fire-ravaged Oakridge Mobile Home Park into the area to retrieve belongings, the Los Angeles Police Department reported.

    Those whose homes survived were allowed to go through their property for about 10 minutes. Those whose homes were destroyed were not because authorities are still looking for possible bodies. 

    "It's something else," resident Bill Wilder said. "Everything is still bad. We lost a lot of things, but it's still standing."

    Michelle Warneck said she watched her home catch fire on television.

    "I've been crying a lot," she said. "That's how I'm handling it, right now. Just crying."

    The search was continuing for possible victims, said coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

    "We have not found any human remains at this point," Winter said.

    Investigators and seven search dogs combed through the rubble, Winter said. Cadaver dogs "alerted" to human remains at one site, but they were not the remains of someone killed in the fire, Winter said.

    "The resident actually walked into (a police station) and said, 'I am fine. I'm here ...,'" Winter said. "Her husband had passed away several years ago, and his remains were there at the space ... his ashes."

    Winter said officials were still trying to find residents of about 200 units who have not yet checked in with police. It was unclear when the park would be reopened for residents, Winter said.

    Shortly after the fire started, flames destroyed 480 of the 608 mobile and modular homes at the mobile home park, which is at the north end of the San Fernando Valley. Los Angeles police urged Oakridge residents to call them at 213-485-2121 and give them the names of everyone who lived in their units in order to confirm that everyone is safe.

    Pushed by Santa Ana winds up to 80 mph, the fire at one point threatened 7,500 structures, and 10,000 residents were evacuated, said county fire Inspector Sam Padilla, although many have since been allowed to return to their homes.

    A Red Flag warning, indicating dry and windy conditions, expired Sunday night, giving hope to fire crews that they will be able to get the fire under control.

    More than 600 structures were destroyed, including the 480 modular homes, nine additional homes, 104 outbuildings and 10 commercial buildings, according to county fire officials. Fifteen additional homes were damaged.

    Several buildings burned on the campus of Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar, and the hospital was without electricity for several hours early Saturday.       

    All freeways in the area have been reopened, and Metrolink's Antelope Valley and Inland Empire-Orange County Lines resumed regular service Monday morning, said Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca.

    Metrolink officials said all tracks and signals were inspected and found to be safe, but they warned commuters to be patient because there could be delays due to freight train congestion and fire-related power outages.

    All other Metrolink lines also will operate on regular schedules.

    Meantime, all schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, including public schools near the fire zone, operated on a regular schedule Monday, although all outdoor activities were canceled, said district spokeswoman
    Gayle Pollard-Terry.

    Sylmar High School, the site of an evacuation center for people burned out of the Oakridge Mobile Home Park, was also in session, Pollard-Terry said.

    North Valley Charter Academy in Granada Hills was closed, according to Kellie Jackson, manager of operations. Additional information is available at (818) 368-1557.

    Cal State Northridge reopened following a daylong closure, and will remain open as long as air quality and traffic conditions permit, according to school officials.

    Faculty and staff can get more information by calling (866) 515-2786; students and members of the community can call (866) 535-2786.

    More than 1,100 firefighters worked the fire with 12 water-dropping helicopters and some fixed-wing aircraft, said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Darryl Jacobs.

    Police and sheriff's deputies increased staffing and dedicated patrols to the areas affected by the fire to prevent looting. Los Angeles police arrested five people Saturday on suspicion of looting in the Sylmar area, where many streets lack electricity due to burned lines.    

    "Fire ran so quickly that there was no way of stopping anything ... it was like matchsticks," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said at a briefing Sunday in Pacoima. The governor said that one of the lessons learned from the fire was that mobile homes should be built with the same fire retardant materials as permanent structures.

    Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County Saturday, clearing the way for state and federal aid to the city and victims.

    Though the fire jumped the Golden State (5) Freeway several times, threatening homes in the Knollwood area of Granada Hills, its advance was halted in part by an aggressive air attack.

    The fire, driven south along the west side of Balboa Boulevard, was further thwarted by a lack of fuel in the area denuded by the Sesnon Fire in October.

    Obama Calls Villaraigosa

    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Monday he received a phone call from President-elect Barack Obama, who said he is "ready and willing to do everything he can" to help the city and residents recover from the devastating wildfires.

    "Obviously, as we all know there is only one president at a time," said Villaraigosa, who said Obama called him last night. "He can't declare a federal emergency or disaster, but he and his transition team are in contact with the White House to ensure they are providing every assistance possible."

    The mayor said he also received a second call from Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama.

    "We're hopeful that the president will pledge assistance as quickly as possible in order to get these families the services and resources that they need," Villaraigosa said.

    Over the weekend, the mayor declared a local state of emergency, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a state proclamation declaring a state of emergency for Los Angeles County.

    Wildfire Roundup (Including Triangle Complex Fire in LA, Orange Counties)

    More Reading:

    Google: Interactive Map of Sayre Fire

    LA City Fire: