Be 'Ready to GO!' Southern California Warns Residents as Fires Rage
Fanned by gusting winds, wildfires raged in densely populated Southern California for a fourth day on Thursday, with a new blaze north of San Diego exploding in size in just a few hours and dangerous conditions forecast until Sunday, according to Reuters.
The blazes destroyed hundreds of houses and forced many Los Angeles-area schools to close. Flames hopscotched over highways and railroad tracks, and residents rushed to evacuate their homes with only minutes’ warning, some leaving behind holiday gifts. People feared for the safety of animals from cats to llamas.
About 200,000 residents were evacuated from their homes at one point, though some were due to return on Thursday evening.
Authorities said the four biggest fires -- ranging from Los Angeles up the Pacific coast to Santa Barbara County -- were whipped up by the region’s notorious westward Santa Ana winds that could reach hurricane strength.
The winds blow in hot and dry from the California desert, and the state CAL FIRE agency said gusty winds and extremely low humidity would continue through Sunday.
“Prepare now to ensure if evacuated you and your family are ready to GO!” CAL FIRE said on Twitter.
The Thomas Fire northwest of Los Angeles grew to 115,000 acres (46,540 hectares) from 96,000 acres (38,850 hectares) and destroyed 439 structures, officials said. More than 2,600 firefighters from as far away as Portland, Oregon, and Nevada were battling the blaze, which was 5-percent contained.
North of San Diego, another blaze called the Lilac Fire grew from 10 acres to 2,500 acres (1,011 hectares) in just a few hours on Thursday, CAL FIRE said, prompting Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for San Diego County.
The blaze destroyed 20 structures and prompted evacuations and road closures. Propane tanks under several houses exploded from the heat, sounding like bombs, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.
The other fires, which broke out on Monday and Tuesday, have reached into the wealthy enclave of Bel-Air on Los Angeles’ West Side. Some major highways in the densely populated area were intermittently closed.
Firefighters and helicopters sprayed and dumped bucketloads of water to try to contain the flames against a hellish backdrop of flaming mountains and walls of smoke.
No civilian casualties or fatalities have been reported from the blazes but three firefighters were injured, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.
In the seaside enclave of Faria Beach, caught between burning mountains and the Pacific Ocean, northwest of Ventura, fires spread down the smoking hills. Flames jumped the heavily used U.S. 101 highway and headed toward clusters of beach houses. Firefighters lined up along a railroad track, the last barrier from the flames.
The Skirball Fire in Los Angeles has forced hundreds of residents in the wooded hills near the Bel-Air neighborhood to evacuate and charred more than 475 acres (192 hectares).