Several people lost their homes in the Saddleridge Fire that continued to burn Friday through thousands of acres in the northern foothills of the San Fernando Valley.
"We've lived through a lot of the evacuations in the past, but like I said, this is the worst that I've ever seen it," said Navin Battu, who has lived in Porter Ranch for five years.
Some burned homes in the communities of Granada Hills and Porter Ranch were reduced to rubble — walls, roofs and any sign of furniture or possessions no longer visible in the piles of debris.
Thirty-one structures were considered destroyed by Friday evening, including 13 buildings deemed a total loss, according to Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph M. Terrazas. At least 16,000 homes remained under evacuation, affecting 70,000 people, as the more than 7,500-acre fire reached 13% containment, authorities said.
Flames were driven west from the wildfire's origin point in Sylmar and carried by winds into neighboring areas of the valley. The fire was reported around 9 p.m. Thursday and had exploded to 4,700 acres by 8 a.m. the following morning.
That leap in acreage left residents scrambling to gather their possessions as they left their homes Thursday night, some of them seeing their houses unscathed for the last time. Battu said his family was left "shaken."
"When we left, I thought we weren't going to come back to our house, and I've never felt that way before in past evacuations," he said. "But when we drove away, I thought, 'This was it. We're not coming back.' And it was a sinking feeling in my stomach."
The family fled the growing blaze and found their home still intact upon returning Friday afternoon. But Terrazas said he estimates hundreds of homes narrowly escaped destruction.
The fire chief boarded an LAFD helicopter earlier Friday, flying over areas of the San Fernando Valley to survey the damage and watch firefighting efforts.
"I saw burns that came up to the backyards of hundreds — if not thousands — of homes," Terrazas said.
A couple whose home survived the massive blaze, even as nearby houses went up in flames, recalled going through such evacuations several times over the 35 years they have lived in Porter Ranch. Allison Flashberg started packing up as soon as she learned of the blaze. Her husband was less worried.
"I said, 'Oh, Allison. It can't be that bad,'" said Mark Flashberg.
His wife turned on the television and saw on the news the fire was just six miles away. "So I said, 'Allison, there's no way that fire is going to reach us,'" he said.
Fifteen minutes later, he said, the fire was just 2 and a half miles away. Another 15 minutes later, he got dressed and went outside to find flames approaching the home. "And it's in our backyard. It was that fast. It was that devastating."
"So Allison takes the important things that we need and she takes off to her mother, and I said, 'You know, I'm gonna stay here. Just in case a burnt ember hits the house, I'll be able to put it out,'" he said.
But, as time passed, he changed his mind. "I started getting nervous and I was almost gonna pass out, and I decided that it was the time to leave."
Despite the realities of wildfires, Mark said he has come to accept the evacuations and other precautions that come with living where he does.
"It's something that you go through," he said. "When you have the beauty here in Porter Ranch, it's hard to walk away from."