The call came in late Friday night: The Santa Monica Fire Department’s help was needed as a blaze began scorching brush in the Angeles National Forest.
Local firefighters headed out early Saturday morning to a mountainous area north of Los Angeles to assist in the fight against the Sand Fire, which officials said had spread to more than 37,000 acres and which was just 25-percent contained as of Tuesday morning.
SMFD spokesman Dale Hallock said eight local firefighters participated in the effort to control what became massive brushfire, which spewed ash into Santa Monica and throughout the Westside over the weekend.
Members of the local department were among more than 3,000 firefighters involved in the operation, which has drawn resources from across the state to the Magic Mountain Wilderness Area of the forest. SMFD crews returned home Monday night after working in the areas of Kagel Canyon, Bear Divide, Soledad Canyon and Acton.
Two Santa Monica engines were among the resources being used as crews battle the Sand Fire, Hallock said. At one point, there were more than 350 total engines at the scene as well as 58 hand crews, 26 helicopters, 20 bulldozers and 18 water tenders, according to press releases issued by incident command officials.
Local firefighters work with the Beverly Hills and Culver City fire departments to coordinate responses to blazes outside their usual coverage areas. The collaborative strike team included five engines and a battalion chief, and a rotation schedule determines which of the three departments will send the battalion chief to a given incident, SMFD’s Frank Evaro said.
It’s all part of a statewide mutual-aid system through which local agencies provide help beyond their coverage areas when extra resources are required.
“Some people might think, ‘Why does Santa Monica have to respond to something that’s 50 miles away?’” Hallock said. “There’s a really important state system in place, both in law enforcement and firefighting, and it goes both ways. Occasionally we have a large fire, and the City of L.A. or County of L.A. will help us. At the Twilight Concert Series, there are agencies from all over the area. So it goes both ways.”
High temperatures, low humidity and strong winds were making it difficult for firefighters to contain the blaze over the weekend, officials said. Onshore winds gusting up to 30 mph heightened fire concerns in the area Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
At least 18 homes had been destroyed and one had been damaged as of Monday afternoon, fire officials said, and evacuation orders were in place in several communities affected by the blaze. Several evacuation centers had been established over the weekend and road closures were in effect in the region.
“Firefighters expect to continue to make good progress,” officials said in a news release Monday. “Expect to see more aircraft assisting with helping to slow the fire progression and allow firefighters on the ground to safely engage and increase containment.”
Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, county fire personnel and county sheriff’s officials were organizing response efforts, according to the release. Assisting agencies included SMFD as well as the Los Angeles Fire Department, the state Office of Emergency Services, Cal Fire, California Highway Patrol, the county public works and animal control departments, the L.A. Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison.
For more information about the Sand Fire, visit http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4878.