(VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.) — Firefighters in Southern California are battling a new wildfire Wednesday morning that has engulfed an area near the Getty Center and the Skirball Cultural Center.
The 50-acre brush fire ignited shortly after 5 a.m. CT near 405 Freeway and Mulholland Drive in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. More than 125 firefighters were on the scene with helicopters hovering above.
Authorities have shut down northbound 405 for an “undetermined period” as a result of the so-called Skirball fire, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Meanwhile, fire crews are still fighting a fast-moving wildfire in Ventura County that officials say has charred at least 65,000 acres of land.
Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes since the flames ignited. The so-called Thomas fire began as a 50-acre brush fire in foothills east of Santa Paula on Monday, and it rapidly grew to 10,000 acres in just four hours, authorities said.
Emergency officials originally said a person died in the fire, but later clarified that a dog was killed.
More than 38,000 people have been evacuated, and officials have gone door to door to enforce mandatory evacuations.
So far, about 2,500 homes were under mandatory evacuation in Ventura County as the flames moved southwest toward the coast. Officials said several thousand homes in nearby areas were also evacuated because of the Thomas fire, though they cautioned that was a rough estimate.
“We urge you: You must abide by these evacuation notices,” Ventura County Sheriff Jeff Dean said at a press conference late Monday. “We saw the disasters and the losses that happened up north in Sonoma, and this is a fast, very dangerous moving fire.”
More than 150 structures, including a 60-unit apartment complex, have been destroyed by the Thomas fire and over 12,000 structures are threatened, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The massive fire has also knocked out power for more than 190,000 customers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, according to Southern California Edison.
Intensified by strong winds and harsh weather conditions, the Thomas fire is pushing west toward the Pacific Ocean. At zero percent containment, officials said critical fire conditions are expected throughout the week.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
At a press conference Tuesday, Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief David Richardson described the unpredictable conditions that firefighters are facing as they attempt to contain the blaze.
“You can only imagine the impact this weather is having on the fire front,” Richardson said. “We’re chasing the fire and trying to get ahead of it. And we’re chasing multiple fronts.”
Firefighters in Ventura County said they were dealing with winds of 25 to 50 mph, which they said made it impossible to fight the fire via aircraft.
“The prospects for containment really are not good. Mother Nature is going to decide when we have the ability to put it out, because it is pushing hard with the wind,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a press conference Monday night.
“As far as getting ahead of the fire, that’s exactly what we’re doing right now, but it’s in defense of structure and property right now, not actually trying to put the fire out,” he added.
Firefighters are also battling a growing brush fire in the Kagel Canyon area above the Sylmar neighborhood in Los Angeles that has scorched over 11,000 acres since Tuesday morning.
Hundreds of firefighters and a number of water-dropping helicopters were on scene as the so-called Creek fire remained at zero percent contained. The Los Angeles Fire Department said homes in the affected area have been damaged, without providing an exact number.
At least three firefighters were injured while fighting the flames and have been transported to a local hospital. They are in stable condition, officials said.
Another wildfire that began in Santa Clarita on Tuesday morning has burned 7,000 acres, spreading across the Los Angeles County line into Ventura County.
At 5 percent contained, the so-called Rye fire has not damaged any homes but has prompted school closures and the evacuation of 1,300 people, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
A major Santa Ana event with wind gusts up to 80 mph paired with low relative humidity is to blame for the fire emergency in the Los Angeles area over the last two days.
Southern California has suffered from exceptional drought over the past several years, causing very dry vegetation and longer fire seasons. It’s fairly late in the year for such a strong Santa Ana wind event; in fact it may be the strongest one to occur in December since 2002. It’s also one of the driest starts to the wet season on record for Southern California, leading to extreme fire danger.
Santa Ana winds are strong northeasterly winds that move downslope and offshore in Southern California. They originate from dry high-pressure air masses usually located over the Great Basin, which is the classic setup seen today.
High pressure over the Great Basin continues to bring dry, offshore winds to Southern California Wednesday although they are not as strong as Tuesday. Expect those winds to pick up again this evening, however, with the next major Santa Ana wind event is forecast to begin Wednesday night and last through Thursday.
Red flag warnings remain in effect from Ventura to San Diego, and extreme fire danger will continue in these areas through at least Friday.
By late Wednesday night and especially into Thursday morning, very strong wind gusts will return. Offshore sustained winds at 20 to 40 mph are expected with gusts of 60 to 80 mph. Wind advisories and high wind warnings are in effect until Friday afternoon when they will finally start to subside.
Relative humidity values will also be extremely low. Most areas will see humidity in the single digits and teens, with poor overnight recovery.
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