In Porter Ranch, residents return home after Saddleridge fire


Chuck Tapia remembers the exact moment he told his wife it was time to pack their valuables in their cars and flee their home.

“At first, it was just glowing, kind of like coals,” Tapia says from the kitchen of his two-story home in Porter Ranch. “But about 15 minutes later, I looked out the window… the fire came over that ridge and the flames were huge.” 

Some 8,000 acres have burned so far because of the Saddleridge fire. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

Tapia and his wife, Michelle, are among the tens of thousands of people forced to evacuate last week because of the Saddleridge fire. The blaze, which broke out on Thursday night, has burned through some 8,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes.  

The Tapias’ house came out relatively unscathed, nothing worse than an ash-covered pool and a faint smell of smoke. Even so, Chuck Tapia says he feels for his fellow residents who did not fare as well. After all, he knows what it feels like.

“I lost my house to a fire before” he says. “So to think about those whose houses burned in this one, it is sickening… but when you live in a fire zone, that is the chance you take.”

This is a community that has become familiar with evacuations in recent years. Much like the Tapias, Matt Pakucko and his partner, Kyoko Hibino, were forced from their homes in 2015, when natural gas began spewing from the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility. 

Matt Pakucko and his partner, Kyoko Hibino, returned to their home off Sesno Blvd. on Sunday, after evacuating because of the Saddleridge Fire. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

The four-month-long leak is considered one of the worst disasters of its kind in U.S. history. 

As she unpacked her car outside her house on Kilfinan Street in northern Porter Ranch, Hibino says that evacuations have become the new normal for her.

“It is so emotional because the issues from the [Aliso Canyon] blowout have not been solved yet,” Hibino says. “So, we still dealing with that… and then you have this fire. It just adds to all the stress.”

Many of the hillsides, like this one (pictured) above Kilfinan Street in Porter Ranch have been charred black by the fire. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb. 

The cause of the Saddleridge fire is still under investigation, although there are reports that equipment operated by Southern California Edison may be linked.

A spokesperson from SoCal Edison tells KCRW that utility officials notified state regulators that some of its equipment “had been impacted near the reported time of the fire.”

For the latest updates on the fire, from LA County, click here

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Benjamin Gottlieb