Parts Of LA On Fire As Several Blazes Scorch Southern California
Updated at 11 p.m. ET
Firefighters were struggling to contain four wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, after a blaze broke out Wednesday morning within the LA city limits. The wildfires have burned a total of more than 100,000 acres, threatened more than 12,000 homes and other buildings and shut down 265 schools.
"These are days that break your heart but they are also days that show the resilience of our city," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
So far, no one has died in the wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire.
The latest wildfire erupted in the tony Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, shutting down part of the 405 freeway, a major thoroughfare. The nearby Getty Center was closed to protect the art collection from smoke damage.
The Skirball Fire began as a brush fire in an area known for its multimillion-dollar real estate and then consumed several homes, prompting a mandatory evacuation order in the area. Aerial footage showed flames and heavy smoke leaping the steep slopes of the Sepulveda Pass. The blaze covered around 475 acres as of late Wednesday and was only 5 percent contained, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
People also posted videos on social media that showed a harrowing commute as the flames from the Skirball Fire came close to the freeway.
Santa Ana winds — the strongest and longest of the season, with gusts of up to 70 mph, according to the National Weather Service — were driving the wildfires and complicating firefighters' efforts. While helicopters were used to dump water on the Skirball blaze, according to The Associated Press, aircraft in other areas were grounded by high winds.
In a tweet, President Trump asked people to heed the warnings of local and state officials and gave thanks to first responders.
The largest of the four blazes, the Thomas Fire, had grown to 90,000 acres as of Wednesday evening when it was only 5 percent contained. The flames had "moved west from Ventura through some inland mountains," member station KCLU's Lance Orozco reports. "But early Tuesday evening the flames moved south, even jumping Highway 101 and almost making it to the ocean. The Coast Highway gave firefighters a wide break to protect homes on the ocean side of the freeway from the flames."
"The flames kicked up 50 feet in the air," Orozco says.
The Thomas Fire erupted suddenly on Monday as people slept, spreading quickly in and around the cities of Santa Paula and Ventura in Ventura County.
That fire is considered a threat to more than 12,000 structures, according to authorities. So far about 150 structures have been destroyed.
"The prospects for containment are not good," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday, according to the AP. "Really, Mother Nature's going to decide when we have the ability to put it out."
The AP spoke to Lisa Kermode as she and her children returned Tuesday to their home — burned to the ground along with the Christmas tree and gifts — after evacuating on Monday.
"We got knots in our stomach coming back up here," Kermode told the AP. "We lost everything, everything, all our clothes, anything that was important to us. All our family heirlooms — it's not sort of gone, it's completely gone."
In addition to 65,000 acres burning in Ventura, more than 18,000 acres have been engulfed in Los Angeles County, with smaller active fires also in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, according to authorities.
The Rye Fire broke out Tuesday in the city of Santa Clarita, northwest of LA, and had burned 7,000 acres by Wednesday. More than 700 firefighters were on hand to battle that blaze. It was 10 percent contained, according to CalFire.
The Creek Fire had consumed more than 12,000 acres in the Kagel Canyon area of Los Angeles County and was at 5 percent containment by late Wednesday. Three firefighters, among the hundreds battling the blaze, were injured but reported to be in stable condition Wednesday. Some 150,000 residents have been evacuated and at least 30 structures have been lost. Nearly 30 horses died at a ranch in Sylmar.
As member station KPCC reports, even before the latest fires this week, 2017 ranked as the deadliest year on record for wildfires in California.
In October, massive wildfires killed more than 40 people in the wine country of Sonoma and Napa, in Northern California.
Officials announced on Wednesday that insurance claims totaled $9 billion for last month's wildfires, the AP reports.
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