Southern California wildfires burn with little containment as conditions worsen
(VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.) -- Firefighters across Southern California are dealing with four major fires, and no help from brutal Santa Ana winds expected to continue fanning the flames into Thursday.
The weather is not cooperating with the hundreds of officials trying to contain the fires in the region. Red flag warnings have been extended across much of Southern California through Saturday and high winds warnings are in effect for mountains and valleys in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Sustained winds were gusting to 66 mph at Boney Mountain in Ventura County, according to the National Weather Service. Winds could gust to 80 mph in the early hours of Thursday, causing embers to spread even more. Much of Southern California is also experiencing humidity levels in the teens or even single digits.
Authorities are dealing with four major fires, as well as a smaller one in San Bernardino, which is 100 percent contained according to Cal Fire.
The Thomas fire, which was the first to break out, has already consumed about 100,000 acres, and is expected to intensify due to the increasing winds. The Skirball fire is the smallest of the wildfires currently, but its threat to heavily populated areas of Los Angeles has drawn widespread attention. The Creek fire and Rye fire also continue to burn Thursday with little containment.
All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley, as well as 17 schools on L.A.'s west side, was closed through Friday. At least 265 schools have been closed. UCLA also cancelled classes on Thursday due to the Skirball fire.
The Thomas fire in Ventura County, the largest of the four fires, started on Monday as a 50-acre brush fire in east of Santa Paula and rapidly grew to 10,000 acres in just four hours, authorities said.
It had swelled to over 108,000 acres by midnight local time on Thursday, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, which is comprised of nine government agencies, among them the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service and United States Fire Administration.
It was just 5 percent contained as of late Wednesday.
There were 50,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders, according to the Ventura County Fire Department, with voluntary evacuation orders issued for parts of Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County. Officials expected the fire to cross the county line into Santa Barbara overnight as winds continued to increase.
Officials were concerned about part of the Thomas fire heading northeast and threatening a nursing home in Ojai. The 25 residents and staff were evacuated as a precaution, authorities said.
The Creek fire, in the area of Sylmar, California, has now burned 12,605 acres and destroyed more than 30 buildings. Evacuations of 110,000 people remain in place for the region, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The fire is 5 percent contained and 1,100 personnel are currently fighting the fire.
While no people have died in any of the fires, the Creek fire was responsible for the death of almost 40 horses at Rancho Padilla, according to Los Angeles ABC station KABC. The horses were trapped in a barn that burned to the ground as the owners were evacuated with no warning.
The Skirball fire is just 450 acres, but its proximity to Los Angeles and responsibility for briefly shutting down the infamously crowded 405 Freeway has given it widespread attention.
The fire is threatening the Getty Center, a museum in western Los Angeles. Officials were focused on keeping the fire from jumping the 405 and heading east. As of 1 a.m. on Thursday, firefighters had managed to keep it from jumping containment lines.
Authorities said six structures had been lost in the fire.
Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon due to the Skirball fire in the Bel Air area of the city.
The Rye fire had burned 7,000 acres in Santa Clarita, west of Valencia, as of Wednesday night. The fire was 10 percent contained, the highest of any of the four fires, though many structures were still being threatened by flames, according to authorities.
Mandatory evacuations in the area had been lifted, however.
There were about 775 firefighters on the scene of the Rye fire Wednesday midday.
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