Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Phil Helsel and Gadi Schwartz

A wildfire north of Los Angeles burning more than 20,000 acres had destroyed at least 18 homes, officials said Sunday.

Evacuation orders remained in place for around 1,500 homes after the blaze ballooned to nearly 22,000 acres by Sunday afternoon from 11,000 acres the day before.

The mandatory evacuation orders were prompted by the so-called Sand Fire burning in the Angeles National Forest and areas near Santa Clarita, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said. Earlier, evacuation orders affected around 300 homes.

Authorities discovered a burned body Saturday evening outside a home on Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, just north of Los Angeles.

Detectives were trying to determine whether the person was killed by the blaze or another cause, said Lt. Rob Hahnlein with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The home also may have burned, he said.

The fire broke out at around 2:00 p.m. local time Friday (5:00 p.m. ET) and swelled to 11,000 acres by noon Saturday. The fire was 10 percent contained Sunday, and nearly 1,700 firefighters were battling it.

"One wind shift and this whole place could be gone in half an hour,” a resident who fled his home, Chris Freeman, told NBC News.

The smoke and flames were seen for miles around. Ash fell on cars in Pasadena and on beaches in Malibu. The smoke created unhealthy air conditions in large parts of the Los Angeles area, and prompted warnings from health officials. Santa Clarita is about 35 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

"The fire weather and the typical temperatures this year this summer are projected to be higher than normal so it's important that all of our citizens recognize that,” Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby said.

The fire began by the 14 Freeway, Osby said, and a cause is under investigation. Ninety percent of wildfires are caused by humans, he said.

California is in its fifth year of a historic drought, creating dry vegetation especially susceptible to catching fire. High temperatures in Southern California and windy conditions were not helping. Some fields have not burned for decades, he said.

Residents flee their home as flames from the Sand Fire closed in on Saturday.DAVID MCNEW / AFP - Getty Images

The area is under a "red flag warning," meaning critical wildfire conditions exist, until Sunday night, the National Weather Service said.

"Probably five years ago, based on our fire behavior, if we had a similar fire we would have probably caught this fire at the ridge," Osby said.

Nine wildfires were burning in the state as of Sunday, according to CalFire. A fire in Monterey County, near Big Sur, had burned more than 10,000 acres, according to fire officials. Mandatory evacuations were in effect, and at least 1,650 buildings were threatened by the fire, which began Friday and was only 5 percent contained Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed.