Even as firefighters and state officials expressed guarded optimism Tuesday about their chances to contain a week-old wildfire that has consumed more than 120,000 acres north of Los Angeles, local residents remained scared. Evacuees pondered the fate of their homes, while others wondered if their turn to flee would be next.

At Chabad-Lubavitch of Glendale and the Foothill Communities, a synagogue and community center for the few thousand families in the area, Rabbi Simcha Backman said that he could see the flames from his house. He wasn’t concerned for his own property, but he said that many of his community members were forced in the past couple of days to evacuate in the face of fast-moving flames.

His staff has directed some to emergency services, helped others book hotel rooms, and assisted in paying for rooms for others.

“We’ve been helping anybody who needs our assistance,” reported Backman. “Thankfully, most people around here can afford their own emergency accommodations, but at times like these, even simple things can become impossible tasks. It’s difficult to call around looking for shelter when you see fire inching up behind your home.”

Of particular note, said the rabbi, was that some members were putting up evacuees in their homes. He’s been spending an increasing amount of time placing families on the run with others whom fate has allowed to stay put.

“I remember in 2003, there was a fire right up the block from my house,” he detailed. “But up until now, the homes that have been destroyed have been in the mountains. Most of the firefighters’ efforts are to keep it out of Los Angeles.”

According to The Los Angeles Times, which has been filing constant reports on the progress of Southern California’s biggest fire by far this season, the so-called “Station Fire” grew by about 15,000 acres over a span of just 12 hours on Tuesday, and practically doubled in size the day before. Two firefighters lost their lives in the massive effort to contain the blaze, and some 50 buildings in and alongside the S. Gabriel Mountains have been destroyed.

Still, there was some good news.

“There have been hundreds of homes saved in this effort,” Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant told the newspaper.

In addition, forecasters for the first time spoke about a turn in the weather pattern that should enable fire crews to tame the blaze.

“I’m feeling a lot more optimistic today than I did yesterday,” the Times quoted U.S. Forest Service Incident Cmdr. Mike Dietrich as saying midday. “We made progress last night, not just due to humidity, but [good] firefighting.”

Onlookers and firefighters described the fire as a living, breathing entity. (Photo: Steve Lyon)
Onlookers and firefighters described the fire as a living, breathing entity. (Photo: Steve Lyon)

In Glendale, Backman said that one family he spoke with escaped their neighborhood with just seconds to spare.

“Just as the last person hopped into the car, they saw a huge wall of flame leap up behind their house,” he detailed. “Their neighbors said later that a tanker aircraft flew overhead at that moment, managing to douse that part of the fire.

“Hopefully,” he added, “the family’s house is fine.”

In the neighboring community of Pasadena, which appeared to be in the fire’s crosshairs on Sunday, Rabbi Chaim Hanoka said that he had several community members who were ordered to evacuate. On Saturday night, he explained, everything was clear, but the following morning, smoke blocked out the sun.

“I just walked outside of my house and couldn’t see anything,” said Hanoka, director of Chabad of Pasadena. “It’s a very fluid situation.”

People in need of assistance are encouraged to call Chabad-Lubavitch of Glendale and the Foothill Communities at 818-240-2750. A listing of other California centers can be found by clicking here.