Los Angeles, Ventura declare state of emergency as 200 000 evacuate

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in response to several rapidly spreading wildfires.

More than 200 000 people in Southern California were forced to evacuate their homes as several wildfires fueled by powerful Santa Ana winds swept through the region. 

The largest of several active fires, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, started on Monday, December 4, exploded in size overnight Tuesday to 31 000 acres (12 545 ha) and by Wednesday morning increased to 65 000 acres (26 304 ha). This fire forced more than 27 000 people to evacuate Tuesday and the number grew when it crossed Highway 33, the route from Ventura to Ojai, and threatened coastal areas. In some places, the fire crossed Highway 101 northwest of Ventura. Although the latest estimate stands at 150, it’s still not clear how many structures were destroyed. One person was killed and 1 firefighter injured.

The Creek Fire in Los Angeles County broke out around 04:00 PST (12:00 UTC), September 5 near Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads in Sylmar and burned 11 000 acres (4 451 ha) by PST noon. The fire has so far burned 30 structures and prompted a mandatory evacuation of 150 000 people. 

The Rye Fire broke out in Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County Tuesday morning. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for 1 300 homes in the Westridge community and lifted by 18:00 PST. This fire has so far burned 5 000 acres (2 023 ha).

The Skirball Fire was first reported around 05:00 PST  Wednesday morning and estimated at about 50 acres (20 ha) by 08:00 PST. It has already managed to burn down several homes in Los Angeles’ Bel-Air neighborhood. The fire forced a full closure of 405 Highway and mandatory evacuations. “It’s been years since anything here has burned at all,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Cody Weireter. “You’ve got heavy, heavy brush, you’ve got the dryness — obviously, we haven’t had any rain at all. A lot of the fire is topography-driven, which already becomes dangerous. The wind is going to increase that twofold.”

Santa Ana winds and very low humidity will continue to produce critical fire weather conditions through at least Friday, NWS said. Fire weather threats will remain at least elevated through the weekend. 

On several occasions this week, Santa Ana winds reached hurricane force.

Featured image: Smoke from Southern California wildfires on December 5, 2017. Credit: NASA Terra/MODIS

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