At least four devastating wildfires continued to ravage Southern California from Ventura County south to Los Angeles, as the stifling smoke and flames drove tens of thousands of people living in the Los Angeles area from their homes in an eerie replay of the fires that decimated Northern California’s wine country two months ago.
Officials in Southern California have warned that powerful winds (as high as 80 mph in some spots, the same speed as a low-level hurricane) would continue to fan the flames after returning overnight. So far, more than 200,000 people have evacuated their homes and many more are expected to flee. The Los Angeles Fire Department has ordered the evacuation of the 20.5 square miles including and surrounding the Creek Fire, which jumped the 210 Freeway and is threatening Santa Ana's Sylmar and Lake View Terrace neighborhoods. The Rye Fire in Santa Clarita prompted the shutdown of Highway 5, according to Mashable.
“We are in the beginning of a protracted wind event,” said state fire chief Ken Pimlott.
“There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds,” Pimlott said. “At the end of the day, we need everyone in the public to listen and pay attention. This is not ‘watch the news and go about your day.’ This is pay attention minute-by-minute … keep your head on a swivel.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, communities both on the coast and inland were under threat. At 4 a.m., officials closed the 101 Freeway between Routes 126 and 150. According to the California Highway Patrol, that left no open routes between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Fires were also burning on the north and east side of Highway 150 and on the west side of Highway 33.
As flames raged toward neighborhoods in Ojai, Carpinteria and Fillmore, officials issued new evacuation orders in Ojai Valley, notifying residents with an emergency cellphone alert. Authorities said they were helping residents of five assisted-living facilities evacuate, while people at Ojai Hospital were advised to shelter in place.
“It’s definitely moving,” Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Garo Kuredjian said of the fire. “Forecasters were correct in terms of the wind forecast for tonight — it’s much windier than it was yesterday."
“It’s a weird wind pattern,” Kuredjian said.
Authorities had already expanded mandatory evacuation orders hours earlier in east Ojai after flames rolled down slopes about four miles north of downtown. Residents flocked to street corners and gas stations downtown to gawk at the flames.
“It looks pretty bad up there, but as of right now we have not lost any structures in the city of Ojai,” said Rudy Livingston, the city’s finance director. He said that officials have four 15-passenger vans and three vintage trolleys available to help evacuate residents.
According to Bloomberg, the fires have shut a major commuter artery in Los Angeles, suspended filming, wiped out more than $3 billion of market value for regional utility Edison International and are threatening some of the state’s lucrative crops.
Stretches of Interstate 405, which feeds major Los Angeles job centers, were shut as flames engulfed nearby mountainsides. Neighborhoods near the freeway and the famed Mulholland Drive, including parts of upscale Bel-Air, were evacuated. Snap Inc. shut operations, and a major conference on microcap stocks that was scheduled to be held in Los Angeles through Thursday was canceled. Ventura County, home to a third of California’s avocado acreage, has seen tens of thousands of acres consumed, and citrus growers have been affected.
The fires are adding to what has already become the most damaging – and also the deadliest - year for wildfires in recent California history. The October fires in NorCal caused some $9.4 billion in damage. The disasters are also striking as the House and Senate are working on a final version of sweeping tax legislation that currently would phase out the deduction for personal casualty losses, including those from wildfires and earthquakes.
One fire’s blazing near the Jewish museum Skirball Cultural Center, and the prominent Getty Center is just south. All filming activity in Los Angeles’s mountain fire zone areas was suspended for the week.
In Ventura County, 90,000 acres had burned as of 9:06 p.m. local time Wednesday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 150 structures were reported destroyed near Ventura. Dozens of schools in Los Angeles and Ventura counties were closed. The University of California at Los Angeles, adjacent to an evacuated area, canceled class.
Elsewhere, the Rye Fire in Santa Clarita has burned 1,000 acres and Santa Ana's Creek Fire has destroyed 11,000 acres, according to the LAT
In one iconic image, smoke from the fires can be seen rising over the Hollywood sign.
One Twitter user tweeted a stunning before-and-after photo of some of the land scorched by the Thomas fire.
As of late last night, more than 11,000 customers were without power due to the wildfires, according to Edison’s Southern California Edison utility. A local transmission emergency was declared by the state’s grid operator after the loss of high-voltage power lines serving the Ventura and Santa Barbara areas. Fire officials said Wednesday that they’re looking at all possible causes for the blazes.
President Donald Trump, who owns a home in Beverly Hills, tweeted that his thoughts and prayers were with Californians affected by the fires and thanked emergency personnel for their work.
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of California’s wildfires. I encourage everyone to heed the advice and orders of local and state officials. THANK YOU to all First Responders for your incredible work! https://t.co/g9y9PkB352— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2017
FEMA, meanwhile, has approved federal disaster-assistance grants...
We approved Fire Management Assistance Grants for the #ThomasFire, #CreekFire, and #RyeFire to help cover the costs of emergency work in California. Listen to local officials and evacuate if instructed. pic.twitter.com/YviixcV1J6— FEMA (@fema) December 6, 2017
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a state of emergency in the area late Tuesday.