Tue, 16 Oct 2018
San Jose

Thousands evacuated as Southern California fires rage on

By Sheetal Sukhija, San Jose News
07 Dec 2017, 11:55 GMT+10

CALIFORNIA, U.S. - As the Southern California wildfires blazed through the region, ravaging everything that came in its path, firefighters were racing against time to douse the blazes.

A series of wildfires continued to grow in size and power, destroying buildings and forcing tens of thousands of people to quickly evacuate their homes.

The biggest concern for firefighters has been the feisty winds and extremely parched conditions that has been delaying firefighting efforts. 

On Wednesday morning, a new fire was started, which threatened Los Angeles' Bel-Air area and, for a while, causing authorities to shut down a major north-south freeway.

Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Chuck Butler said that the intense winds were broken in the afternoon by the 475-acre Skirball Fire which was 5 percent contained. 

He added that crews were working feverishly to get more of the blaze under control before the winds whip back up Wednesday night.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Butler said, "The forward movement of the fire has been stopped at this time. When the winds come up (later in the day) ... they will want to push that fire across the 405 freeway. That's why it's critically important that we get some containment on this tonight."

According to officials, evacuations in some of the area's most affluent neighbourhoods near the Skirball Fire affected 46,000 people.

Local reports noted earlier that 9 miles of Interstate 405, which is one of the nation's busiest freeways were shut down after flames swept down the foothills before dawn as stunned motorists watched.

The fire was reportedly on the other side of the highway from both the Skirball Museum and the Getty Museum.

Officials also noted that heavy Santa Ana winds were blamed for spreading the infernos still threaten to multiply the destruction. 

Local officials said that the winds are expected to pick up Wednesday evening and Thursday, with gusts of 50 mph, posing a risk of further fire spread.

Taking to Twitter, the National Weather Service posted an image that showed the smoke forecast from the fires.

The department warned that the fires could go on for days.

Meanwhile, in Ventura County which sits just north and west of Los Angeles, the Thomas Fire spanned 65,000 acres.

On Wednesday, a line of fire was scorching hills toward the Pacific coast.

Rich Macklin, a Ventura County fire spokesman said that airborne embers were irritating firefighters' eyes.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency for Ventura County, freeing state resources such as the National Guard to support response efforts.

However, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which started on Monday evening, remains the biggest blaze so far.

Officials have said the fire has destroyed at least 150 buildings, including an evacuated mental health facility.

In the Ventura County, about 50,000 people have been told or advised to evacuate. 

Officials said on Wednesday that over 12,000 buildings were under threat.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that his "thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of California's wildfires," and thanked first responders.

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