Southern California wildfires burn with little containment as conditions worsen

ABC News
ABC News

(VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.) — Firefighters across Southern California are battling four major fires, and brutal Santa Ana winds are 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, while 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 the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Thomas fire, which was the first to ignite, has already burned about 90,000 acres of land 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 continued to burn Thursday with little containment.

All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley, as well as 17 schools on Los Angeles’ west side, were shuttered through Friday. At least 265 schools have been closed. The University of California, Los Angeles, also canceled classes Thursday due to the Skirball fire.

Thomas fire

The Thomas fire in Ventura County, the largest of the four fires, started Monday night as a 50-acre brush fire in foothills 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.

The fire was only 5 percent contained as of Wednesday night.

There were 50,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. Authorities on Thursday morning upgraded voluntary evacuation orders to mandatory 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 strengthen.

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.

Creek fire

The Creek fire, in the Kagel Canyon area above Los Angeles’ Sylmar neighborhood, has scorched 12,605 acres of land and destroyed more than 30 buildings, authorities said. Evacuations of 110,000 people remain in place for the region, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The fire was just 5 percent contained as of Wednesday night 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 ABC station KABC in Los Angeles. The horses were trapped in a barn that burned to the ground as the owners were evacuated with no warning.

Skirball fire

The Skirball fire has only burned 475 acres of land so far, but its proximity to Los Angeles and responsibility for briefly shutting down the infamously crowded 405 Freeway has garnered nationwide attention.

The fire is threatening the Getty Center, a museum in western Los Angeles. Officials were focused on keeping the fire from jumping the freeway and heading east. As of early Thursday, firefighters had managed to keep it from breaching 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 city’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

Rye fire

The Rye fire has scorched 7,000 acres in Santa Clarita, west of Valencia. The fire was 10 percent contained as of Wednesday night, the highest of any of the four fires, though many structures were still being threatened by flames, according to authorities.

However, mandatory evacuations in the area have been lifted.

Some 775 firefighters were on the scene battling the Rye fire Wednesday afternoon.

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