Thousands Evacuate in Southern California as Wildfires Grow
A series of large fires across Southern California continued to grow Wednesday, leading to the closure of schools and a major freeway and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
In Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, flames chewed through downtown Ventura and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. In Los Angeles, a fire sparked early Wednesday morning threatened some of the country’s most expensive real estate.
Fire officials expected conditions to worsen over the next several days, with wind gusts expected to pick up dramatically—up to 80 miles an hour. The conditions would be so dire that state fire officials said they declared the fire danger at the highest level: extreme.
“These will be winds that there will be no abilities to fight fires,” said Ken Pimlott director of CAL FIRE, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “This is about evacuations.”
Videos on social media showed motorists on the busy 405 freeway driving toward hillsides that were completely engulfed in flames. The freeway reopened Wednesday afternoon.
???? This is what Alex Avlas saw on his way into work this morning on the #405 freeway in #LosAngeles! ???? Please be safe!! ???????? #fire #california #socal #405 #skirballfire #skirball #405 #losangeles #lafires #lafire #ryefire #thomasfire #venturafire #fires #santaanas #prayforla pic.twitter.com/wUNvErPyZG— Chris Duke (@chrisduketv) December 7, 2017
The Getty Center museum and Skirball Cultural Center both closed for the day, as have dozens of Los Angeles area schools, as thick plumes of smoke obscured the skyline.
Some residents of Bel Air, home to celebrities and millionaires such as Elon Musk, have been ordered to evacuate.
Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a local state of emergency as the fire near Bel Air grew to 125 acres. A local state of emergency was still in effect for another fire burning further north in Los Angeles. This declaration requests state and federal assistance be provided quickly.
“These are days that break your heart,” Mr. Garcetti said at a Wednesday press conference. “We have four structures that we can confirm have been destroyed, four homes.”
Meanwhile, fires across Southern California this week have already consumed more than 80,000 acres, fueled by Santa Ana winds and months with little rain that left brush across the region dry and ready to burn.
More than 4,000 firefighters were working to control the blazes, but the major fires were still at little or no containment, and fire officials said the high winds and low humidity were likely to last at least until Friday.
The largest fire—the Thomas Fire in Ventura County—jumped the 101 freeway Tuesday night and reached all the way to the Pacific Ocean. That fire has burned into the city of Ventura and has destroyed at least 150 buildings, a total that fire officials expect will rise.
Fire officials compared the Thomas Fire with the Tubbs Fire, which tore through Santa Rosa in Northern California in October. That fire killed 22 people and burned more than 5,000 acres, making it the most destructive fire in the state’s recorded history.