Firefighters have been battling a series of wildfires throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties, which have burned more than 116,000 acres. None of the fires are more than 15-percent contained, and according to the New York Times, the blazes have ravaged more than 300 structures, including homes and businesses, and city officials have closed some routes along the 101 and 405 freeways that have led to massive gridlock as thousands of families evacuate the area. The Los Angeles Unified School District announced they have closed 322 schools for the rest of the week due to a thick blanket of smoke engulfing the city.
With the combination of strong winds and dry weather, firefighters faced at least one new fire Thursday morning in Malibu, and in San Diego, a brush fire led firefighters to call in aircraft to help fight the flames. Southern California remains on high-alert as it braces for strong winds from Santa Ana throughout the weekend.
A US Wildfire Activity Public Information map shows the areas marking the four major blazes: the Skirball Fire, Creek Fire, Rye Fire, the expanding Thomas Fire and the new Lilac Fire in San Diego and Liberty Fire in Riverside County.
The Skirball Fire located near the upscale Bel Air area of Los Angeles burned for a third day on Friday, just two days after the Getty Center—which contains thousands of priceless pieces of art—was thought to be in danger from the hellacious 475-acre blaze that prompted evacuations and a closure of the 405 Freeway. At least four homes were destroyed near the area, and another 12 were damaged, according to ABC 7.
Firefighters now have the fire 30 percent contained as of Friday morning. The Getty Center is now housing firefighters who are working to contain the fire. Streets are reopening and many evacuees are now returning home.
The Creek Fire in San Fernando Valley continues to spread east of Sylmar, but is now 10 percent contained, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Two fighters have been hospitalized fighting the blaze—one was hurt while using a dozer and second was hurt when a nearby propane tank exploded—but both are expected to be okay, according to the LA Times. Every school in the San Fernando Valley is closed. Approximately 99,000 residents have been evacuated since Tuesday, and about 15 structures were destroyed and 15 others were damaged.
The Thomas Fire is the most massive of the four fires, and has now consumed some 132,000 acres—an area roughly the size of Denver. The fire is now the largest blaze during the month of December in California’s history, having spread over 31,000 acres in just nine hours—a speed that would have engulfed New York City’s Central Park in just 15 minutes, according to CNN. The Thomas Fire threatened nearby Ojai, located in Ventura County, but firefighters were able to fight back late Wednesday night and keep it from reaching the town.
“It was truly a miracle that the predicted fierce winds failed to materialize — we were waiting for them, but they didn’t come,“ Rudy Livingston, Ojai’s finance director, told the LA Times. “All I can say is, ‘Thank God.’ If they had come, it would have been very ugly here.”
Yet, officials announced on Thursday they found one dead body near Ojai. Evacuation orders are now in place for parts of the city of Carpinteria, located in southeastern Santa Barbara County, as Thomas approaches.
The Rye Fire torched 7,000 acres of land in Santa Clarita and prompted evacuations as it grew on Tuesday, but is 15 percent contained as of Thursday, according to fire officials. Approximately 9.000 firefighters working throughout Wednesday night to hold fire lines, and only one structure has been destroyed. While firefighters have made progress, officials urge residents to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
The combination of small winds and dry weather led to a fire Thursday morning which prompted road closures and evacuations in North County San Diego. The blaze, dubbed the Lilac Fire, scorched some 350 acres and destroyed two mobile homes. According to the San Diego Tribune, local schools and a nearby country club were evacuated, and it is 0 percent contained as of Thursday afternoon.
Firefighters have been placed on continual high-alert as strong winds are expected to blow in from Santa Ana.
A fire in Riverside County engulfed 300 acres and destroyed at least one home on early afternoon on Thursday in Murrieta, according to Cal Fire. More than 300 firefighters responded to the blaze and were able to contain 5 percent of it by the evening.
“I just, I’m at a loss for words,” a woman told ABC 7. “It’s so horrible. You never think that it’s going to happen to you, and it can.”