LA Wildfire Turns Reagan Library Into Hellscape

A raging wildfire in a north Los Angeles suburb forced the evacuation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and nearby homes, as dangerous fires fueled by intense Santa Ana winds spread across Southern California's Simi Valley on Wednesday.

The brush fire near the library started before dawn in the Moorpark and Simi Valley neighborhoods, expanding to over 1,300 acres and threatening 6,500 homes according to Ventura County officials.

Library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said around midmorning that the hilltop museum in Simi Valley was not damaged. She said that the flames came within about 30 yards (27 meters) of the property but that it was protected by aircraft dropping water and by a firebreak, a buffer zone that was cleared of brush by goats. -AP

A blaze also broke out to the east in Riverside County's Jurupa Valley, which led to healthcare workers quickly evacuating elderly people in wheelchairs and gurneys as thick smoke blanketed the area.

According to Giller, the library spokeswoman, hundreds of goats are brought to the grounds each year to eat wildfire-fueling vegetation on the 300-acre property. Ronald and Nancy Reagan are buried next to each other on a hillside at the library.

Helicopters and airplanes attacked the blaze as some 800 firefighters battled it on the ground. The flames pushed through sparsely developed hills between suburban tract developments. Ranchers rushed to evacuate horses, goats and other livestock.

Wind gusts up to 68 mph (109 kph) were reported in the area, forecasters said. Other spots elsewhere in Southern California were buffeted by even stronger winds. The wind knocked over a truck along a freeway in Fontana. -AP

Power outages continue

To the North, Californians served by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) were subject to yet another sweeping blackout - the third in a week, aimed at preventing its dated electrical equipment from sparking more fires. Over 900,000 people were without power Wednesday - with some having no power since Saturday according to PG&E.

Across the darkened neighborhoods, people worried about charging cellphones and electric vehicles, finding gasoline and cash, staying warm and keeping their food from spoiling. Some ended up at centers set up by PG&E where people could go to power their electronics and get free water, snacks, flashlights and solar lanterns. -AP

Chef and caterer Jane Sykes says she's had to toss $1,000 of food, including trays of cupcakes, brownies and puff pastry - and that she can't get a good night's sleep without her sleep apnea machine which runs on electricity. 

"I don’t think PG&E really thought this through," she told the Associated Press.

In Sonoma County north of San Francisco, fire officials reported that a 120-square-mile blaze was 30% contained. It has destroyed 206 structures so far, including 94 homes. Another 90,000 are threatened, while 150,000 people are under evacuation orders.

Winds topped out at 70 mph (112 kph) north of San Francisco Bay and began to ease early Wednesday, but forecasters said the fire danger would remain high because of continuing breezes and dry air.

In Southern California, fire crews continued trying to snuff out a wildfire in the celebrity-studded hills of Los Angeles that destroyed a dozen homes on Monday. About 9,000 people, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James, were under evacuation orders. -AP

According to authorities, the Southern California fire was caused after a dry branch from a eucalyptus tree was carried 30 feet by high winds into a power like operated by the city's Department of Water and Power. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti called it an "act of God."

Much of Southern California will be under an extreme red flag warning for high winds through Thursday evening, with some gusts expected to top 80 mph - the strongest winds in years.