Fall traditions like Halloween and Thanksgiving are great, but Canyon Country residents aren’t fond of the annual wind-powered wildfires that seem to show up with the regularity of a holiday.
When the Tick Fire broke out on Thursday, October 24, despite intentional power outages by Southern California Edison, it affected homes in Stone Crest and Shadow Pines communities. By Friday morning the fire had scorched more than 4,000 acres and consumed homes, eventually destroying 29 structures, most of which were residences. There were about 70 structures damaged or destroyed in the fire, mostly residential.
Hundreds of firefighters fought the Tick Fire while thousands of residents evacuated from multiple areas of Canyon Country. Between Thursday night and Friday morning the fire jumped the 14 freeway, which sent many residents of Sand Canyon packing.
Southern California has been under an extreme red flag warning by the National Weather Service due to 40-70 mph winds. Edison has been responding by cutting power as a preventative measure; however, some residents complain that it cuts off communication from important emergency information. For Sand Canyon, in particular, it’s a challenge because of limited phone reception in the area.
After midnight on Friday morning, October 25, Canyon Country resident Michelle Sandoval received word that her neighborhood of North Oaks had to evacuate.
“The sheriffs came up and down the streets, weaving and flashing lights, using a megaphone, telling residents we had to leave, that it was mandatory,” she explained. “That’s when we realized it was more serious than we thought. We saw a lot of neighbors leaving.”
Luckily, she was prepared. “We had packed earlier,” she said. “We kept checking a website where they had a map of the city and the areas that were red were under mandatory evacuation, including our neighborhood.”
She never received a text from authorities until after they left the house. Sandoval headed to her uncle’s house in Saugus, but it was the middle of the night and he didn’t answer his phone.
“I had my dogs, but I drove to the COC evacuation center to check it out anyway,” she said, assuming that animals were not allowed at the site. “There were a lot of people there, outside, walking their dogs.”
Later that morning they let residents from many neighborhoods return to their homes, including Sandoval, and Sand Canyon was repopulating by Friday afternoon. Evacuations were lifted in the Shadow Pines/Stone Crest areas at various time frames.
As local residents brace for continued phases of dry conditions and high winds, making the area ripe for wildfires, there are numerous safety concerns. Ironically, the power outage creates some of the issues brought up by people in fire areas. In addition to improving communication lost by the lack of power there are other hazards.
When residents are home – when evacuation orders are lifted – total darkness can prove problematic. One Shadow Pines resident noted that streetlights and stoplights weren’t operational in the days following the Tick Fire. In total darkness, some drivers ran through intersections without stopping and cars parked on the sides of the street could easily be hit – even by fire trucks.
Fire on Ball Mountain
Krissy Ball of Canyon Country was shopping in Saugus on Thursday, October 24 when her son, Russell, sent her a picture showing a plume of smoke he could see from their two homes atop a hill on Sierra Highway. It looked pretty far away, but because of the high winds she decided to go home, where Russell and her husband, Chris, were monitoring the situation.
“Right away I could hear the concern in Chris’ voice and he started directing me – and Russell and Jose, who works with us – to get everything away from the house that’s flammable,” she said. “Then I thought, okay, someone has to go into the house and find stuff to save … safes, our family heirlooms, mementos, pictures.”
She spent about a half hour loading the cars while they moved items away from the house, most notably, a large pile of firewood.
“I thought I still had some time to get stuff out of the house, but suddenly embers jumped across and behind our two water tanks – totally opposite of where the fire was – bam!” Ball said. “The fire was heading our way from the north, coming toward our house. Now we had flames on the opposite side of our house. And then it started blowing downhill toward Mint Canyon, toward our other house.”
Chris Ball used a garden hose, creating a fire deterrent to protect their homes on “Ball Mountain,” which are structures that most people don’t see from the road below.
“I went up and down, up and down, to see if our other house was okay, and I went to the street to see if there were fire trucks,” Krissy said. “They didn’t know we were up here. I’m flagging them down, flailing my arms like a crazy woman. There was a firefighter in a regular truck, sitting on the phone. I knocked on the window and said, ‘Why isn’t anyone coming up the hill?’”
Finally, a truck pulled up to the Ball’s driveway. “I was down on the street by the lower house and I didn’t know the status of our upper house, I didn’t know how Chris was,” Krissy said. “They were going to stop at the lower house and I directed them, ‘Keep going, keep going,’ and they said, ‘Is there a house up there?’”
Chris Ball’s efforts and the arrival of firefighters saved the family’s homes. Chris had built them, using flame retardant siding and other safeguards, but he learned the hard way about the need for power.
“One of our houses has battery backup, so the fire sprinkler system was fully operational, but the other house didn’t have backup,” he explained. “We were required to have a sprinkler system, but when Edison turns the power off, we don’t have power to energize the solar panels. … You’ve got to have the batteries to back it up.”
Chris noted the cooperation between fire departments, the way they help each other. The crew that stood on their hill were firefighters from Fountain Valley in Orange County – and they had “never had their engine off the pavement,” Chris said.
In fact, one of the takeaways from the experience is the connections that take place. Krissy and Russell ran through smoke to save his cats, but also helped a neighbor search for her dog. And at the worst moments of the fire Krissy was comforted by a perfect stranger a few streets away.
Since the fire Krissy’s become Facebook friends with neighbors she never knew, she said, and their acquaintance is growing: “Now we’re going to have breakfast and discuss our fire stories.”
Attention: Tick Fire Victims
Simply Discount Furniture is reaching out to Tick Fire victims who are struggling financially. Local residents who cannot afford to replace some of their furniture necessities damaged by the fire can contact the store owners, who are offering to replace them free of charge. If you are in that situation, call Trisha Garrison 661-799-3401.
You Can Help
Canyon Church, a campus of Real Life Church in Valencia, posted some local needs and resources on Facebook to reach out to Tick Fire victims.
You can support those in need through some of the GoFundMe pages listed below.. There are requests for such necessities as toiletries, as well as a call to give gift cards. All families receiving gift cards are identified and vetted by school counselors and social workers in the area, the post says.
GoFundMe pages include one for a teacher with L.A. Unified School District who lost her home and all of her belongings in the fire. Another page is raising money to help a Canyon Country animal advocate who had to let her animals run free while she watched her home being destroyed by flames. A third GoFundMe page includes a family near Pinetree Community School who lost everything.
See the Real Life/Canyon Church Facebook page for links to these GoFundMe pages.
You can donate gift cards by taking them to Real Life Church on a Sunday or drop them off at the front office of Canyon High School, which is located at 19300 Nadal St. in Canyon Country.
The types of gift cards suggested are:
Also, Canyon Springs School’s Resource Center is collecting toiletry items and clothes for 4- and 5-year-olds. Those can be dropped off at Canyon Springs School or through Canyon Church/Real Life Church.
Canyon Springs is located at 19059 Vicci St. in Canyon Country. Real Life Church is located at 23841 Newhall Ranch Rd. in Canyon Country. For more information, see the Canyon Church Facebook page.