LOS ANGELES >> A massive wildfire destroyed at least 18 homes and threatened 1,500 more Sunday as flames churned through tinder-dry canyons north of Los Angeles where authorities found a burned body in a neighborhood.
Planes and helicopters dropped water and retardant on the blaze that has blackened more than 34 square miles of brush on ridgelines near the city of Santa Clarita and the Angeles National Forest. About 300 miles up the coast, crews were battling another blaze spanning 16 square miles north of the majestic Big Sur region.
Crews faced another day of hot weather, low humidity and high winds that could once again fan the fires’ explosive growth. Shifting winds sent smoke away from greater Los Angeles and into desert communities, where residents were warned about poor air quality.
Eighteen homes were gutted and one was damaged Saturday in the Santa Clarita area, where evacuations were ordered as flames raged through brush withered by days of 100-degree temperatures in a Southern California heat wave.
The body of a man was discovered Saturday in a burned sedan outside a home in the city. The death was under investigation, but there was no evidence it was a crime, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
Fire officials say more than 1,600 firefighters were battling the flames threatening about 1,500 homes and 100 commercial buildings.
“It’s not a one-direction type of fire,” said Nathan Judy, a spokesman for the Angeles National Forest. “It’s going in different directions depending on which way the wind is blowing. It’s doing what it wants.”
Despite firefighters’ efforts, the blaze destroyed sets at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, which has Old West-style buildings used for movie locations.
“It was a horrific firestorm,” owner Derek Hunt told KABC-TV. “At some point, you know you’re defeated and you have to step back and save what you can. We fought as best as we could.”
The flames also forced a nonprofit sanctuary for rescued exotic creatures to evacuate 340 of its more than 400 animals, including Bengal tigers and a mountain lion.
Volunteers showed up with trucks and trailers and evacuated animals from early Friday to late Saturday, when fire officials felt the blaze was no longer a threat to the Wildlife Waystation in Sylmar, spokesman Jerry Brown said.
“The fire surprised everyone and seemingly came out of nowhere,” Brown said. “But things are looking up, and officials say that although they have some hotspots near where we are, they don’t see any active fire.”
The evacuated animals were housed in three or four locations, and the sanctuary will wait at least 24 hours before bringing them back, Brown said.
North on the Central Coast, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters battled a blaze in rugged mountains north of Big Sur. The fire 5 miles south of Garrapata State Park posed a threat to about 1,000 homes and the community of Palo Colorado was ordered evacuated, Cal Fire said.
Jerri Masten-Hansen said she and her husband watched the fire creep in toward them.
“We felt threatened this morning and decided we needed to go,” Masten-Hansen told KSBW-TV.
Her sister also left her home down the road.
“I grabbed all the pictures of the kids, and then I took the paintings of my parents that had been done by a local artist,” Ellen Masten said.