Wind-whipped wildfires are continuing to scorch the Los Angeles area, with a trio of existing infernos expanding overnight and a newly ignited blaze forcing evacuations in the upscale Bel Air neighbourhood of Los Angeles.
After spending Tuesday battling the sprawling Thomas Fire in Ventura County and the fast-growing Creek Fire and Rye Fire in northern Los Angeles County, firefighters were scrambling to combat the newly named Skirball Fire in one of the tonier Los Angeles areas.
Driven by winds blowing at 25 miles per hour or more, the Skirball fire began early on Wednesday morning and within hours had burned across some 50 acres. Mandatory evacuation orders drove people out of multi-million dollar homes as the flames shut down parts of a major north-south highway and approached the Getty Center, a museum. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti declared a state of emergency in the early afternoon.
As with the fires engulfing other parts of southern California, the conflagration fed on dry brush that is a legacy of a recent multiyear drought. Fire officials said the Skirball fire was racing through dense brush in the hills.
“It’s been years since anything here has burned at all,” Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Cody Weireter told reporters.
Stunning images shared by commuters showed cars ringed by glowing red hills, plumes of smoke pouring into the sky.
The new conflagration only added to the challenge for firefighters locked in a multi-front fight against flames that had burned nearly 100,000 acres as Wednesday dawned.
In Ventura County, the Thomas Fire had grown across 65,000 acres and spurred evacuation orders for thousands of people. The Creek Fire reached some 11,000 acres, while the Rye Fire grew to 7,000 acres and was 5 percent contained.
Fire officials have warned that dry conditions and persistent Santa Ana winds would likely have them fighting flames for days to come. Cal Fire warned that sustained winds, some potentially reaching 80 miles per hour later this week, would drive “extreme levels of fire growth potential”.
Authorities have implored residents to heed evacuation orders swiftly and to pack their valuables so they are able to flee at a moment’s notice.
Gov Jerry Brown declared states of emergency for the three earlier fires, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved assistance grants to help cover the cost of firefighting. Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter, saying “our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of California’s wildfires” and urging people to listen to local officials.
Even before flames engulfed a vast swathe of southern California, it has been a brutal year for wildfires. Thousands of people in northern California are still struggling to recover from enormous blazes that killed more than 40 people and incinerated homes and businesses.