Several large wildfires have forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in Southern California, and persistent Santa Ana winds will challenge firefighters looking to contain the blazes.
The largest of five active fires, the Thomas Fire, began on Monday near the town of Santa Paula in Ventura County, California. It exploded in size during the overnight hours on Tuesday and is currently 96,000 acres and five percent contained. It is threatening 12,000 structures with many already destroyed.
In Los Angeles County, the Creek Fire and Rye Fire have burned 12,605 acres and 7,000 acres respectively. Both fires triggered evacuation orders and road closures, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
On Wednesday morning, a fourth wildfire erupted, this time near the 405 Freeway in the Speulvada Pass section of Los Angeles. This fire is being called the Skirball Fire.
Santa Ana winds will continue to whip through Southern California through the rest of this week, threatening to spread these blazes and any new fires that ignite rapidly.
More lives and homes will be threatened, and residents living in the Santa Ana wind-prone areas should prepare for the possibility of needing to evacuate at a moment's notice.
"The winds will make it difficult to get air support to these wildfires," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said. "Helicopters may be able to aid firefighters, but the winds can be more problematic for larger aircraft."
9 a.m. PST Thursday:
Los Angeles County officials say that firefighters are now battling a new wildfire in Malibu called the Horizon Fire. This is the fourth blaze in Los Angeles County, joining the Creek Fire near Sylmar, the Rye Fire near Santa Clarita and the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles.
The fifth major fire in Southern California, the Thomas Fire, is in Ventura County.
7:53 a.m. PST Thursday:
The Thomas Fire has grown to 96,000 acres and lanes have been reopened on the 101 Freeway, according to ABC7.
Ventura County officials said the Thomas Fire continues to burn actively with extreme rates of spread.
"The fire is established on the north and east side of Highway 150 and is also burning on the west side of Highway 33. The fire has pushed northwest of Ventura and has reached the Highway 101," officials said in a statement. "Firefighters continue to work aggressively to protect life and property while working on control efforts around the fire perimeter."
4:25 a.m. PST Thursday:
The Ventura County Sheriff's Office said U.S. Highway 101 is closed in both directions between Ventura and the oceanside community of Carpinteria due to the Thomas Fire.
Mandatory evacuations were also issued for the community of La Conchita, located about 30 minutes south of Ventura.
1:30 a.m. PST Thursday:
Around 11,000 Southern California Edison (SCE) customers are without power due to the wildfires and gusty winds. SCE warns that the power may remain out for several days as crews are having difficulty gaining access to fire-ravaged areas.
12:00 a.m. PST Thursday:
Over a dozen schools have announced closures for the rest of the week due to the wildfires raging across Southern California, ABC7 reports. Mandatory evacuations for the raging Thomas Fire have been expanded to include much of the Ojai Valley.
Here is the latest unofficial burn area of the #ThomasFire as of 11 PM PST as indicated by satellite. The red colors represent the latest fire activity. The fire activity has surrounded #Ojai affecting Hwys 33 and 150. #SoCal #LAfire #cawx #LAweather pic.twitter.com/7TNWWTidN1— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) December 7, 2017
10:45 p.m. PST Wednesday:
Santa Ana winds are picking up across Southern California and threatening to cause further fire growth. Wind gusts between 60 and 80 mph with localized gusts to 90 mph will continue into Thursday morning.
8:00 p.m. PST Wednesday:
Nearly 40 horses died at Rancho Padilla in Sylmar, California, in the Creek Fire on Wednesday, according to ABC7. The fire was so intense that ranch workers were unable to open the barn doors to free the horses. Around six horses were rescued.
Poor air quality forced the Los Angeles Rams to hold their practice indoors at Cal Lutheran University, according to The Associated Press. The team plans to practice outdoors on Thursday unless air quality worsens.
6:25 p.m. PST Wednesday:
The Thomas Fire, the largest fire currently burning in Southern California, has grown to 90,000 acres. Earlier on Wednesday, the fire was estimated to be 65,000 acres.
A helicopter makes a water drop on hot spots after the Thomas fire swept through Ventura, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (Daniel Dreifuss via AP)
6:05 p.m. PST Wednesday:
Winds have been increasing across Southern California over the past several hours and will continue to increase through Wednesday night. Winds in canyons and passes may gust as high as 70 to 80 mph.
The combination of extremely dry air and strong winds is leading to one of the highest fire risks seen across the region in decades.
BREAKING Fire chief Ralph Terrazas says Los Angeles faces the highest risk of wildfire tomorrow that he's seen in his entire 31 year career.— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) December 7, 2017
In addition to bringing a high fire danger, the strong winds may also bring down trees and power lines resulting in power outages.
#SantaAnaWinds to intensify and become damaging overnight into Thu. Here are the projected wind gusts for Thu morning. Be prepared for downed trees/powerlines , blowing dust/debris, power outages, and very rapid fire spread. #LAWind #LAWeather #cawx pic.twitter.com/PniAv9LdZV— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) December 7, 2017
3:45 p.m. PST Wednesday:
The Santa Ana winds are expected to pick up across Southern California in the next couple of hours, elevating the risk of new wildfires erupting.
"Winds will increase again Wednesday night into Thursday, and conditions will be similar to what was experienced Monday night. The threat for fire ignition and rapid growth will be critically high during this time," AccuWeather Meteorologist Jordan Root said.
"Relative humidity levels will continue to remain low as well, extending the wildfire threat," Root said.
1:10 p.m. PST Wednesday:
A local State of Emergency has been declared in Los Angeles in response to the Skirball Fire. This is in addition to the Emergency Declaration signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday in response to the Creek Fire.
"Both Emergency Declarations direct relevant City departments to take all necessary steps to protect life and property in the area affected by the fires," the press release said.
"This declarations also request that state and federal assistance be provided to the City quickly."
Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared a local State of Emergency in response to the #SkirballFire in Bel Air near the Sepulveda Pass. The Emergency Declaration the Mayor signed yesterday in response to the #CreekFire is still in effect. https://t.co/2LjerFKOEh pic.twitter.com/YmQgPjFKqu— Mayor Eric Garcetti (@MayorOfLA) December 6, 2017
11:50 a.m. PST Wednesday:
UCLA has canceled their basketball game tonight against Montana due to the Skirball fire burning nearby. Power outages have also been reported on campus.
The northbound lanes of the 405 Freeway remains closed between the 101 and 10 freeways due to the Skirball fire, but the southbound lanes have been reopened, the LAPD said late Wednesday morning.
10:27 a.m. PST Wednesday:
KABC7 reports that the Skirball Fire has destroyed at least four homes in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. It has burned 150 acres and is zero percent contained.
Los Angeles firefighters battle to contain flames to a burning home and prevent the fire's spread to adjoining properties in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
8:35 a.m. PST Wednesday:
The Federal Emergency Management Assistance Agency has approved fire management assistance grants for the Thomas Fire, Creek Fire and Rye Fire. These grants will help cover the costs of emergency work in California.
President Donald Trump thanked the first responders on Twitter for their "incredible work."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of California's wildfires. I encourage everyone to heed the advice and orders of local and state officials," Trump tweeted.
In a recent update, Cal Fire reports that the Rye Fire burning in the Santa Clarita area has now grown to 7,000 acres and remains 5 percent contained.
8:06 a.m. PST Wednesday:
Firefighting efforts are underway to battle the Skirball Fire which is racing up Sepulvada Pass near the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Helicopters are dropping water on the blaze which is encroaching on homes as seen in live footage from KABC7 in Los Angeles.
At least 220 firefighters are on the scene and mandatory evacuation orders have been issued. There has been been a report on the amount of acres burned by the fire.
6:46 a.m. PST Wednesday: A new wildfire, labeled the Skirball Fire, is burning near the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles and has forced both lanes to be closed for an undetermined amount of time.
#BREAKING: The 405 Freeway is SHUT DOWN in BOTH directions between the 101 Freeway and the 10 Freeway due to fire.— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) December 6, 2017
The fire began around 5 a.m. in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles and is causing massive gridlock on the 405 Freeway, according to the Los Angeles Times.
6 a.m. PST Wednesday:
There have been no reports of fatalities due to the wildfires; however, three firefighters sustained injuries battling the Creek Fire, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The Creek Fire has destroyed approximately 30 structures.
The fire is also causing poor air quality for those in northwestern Los Angeles County coastal areas, as well as the San Fernando Valley.
"It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask all individuals to be aware of their immediate environment and to take actions to safeguard their health," said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the Interim Health Officer for Los Angeles County. "Smoke and ash can be harmful to health, especially in vulnerable individuals, like the elderly, people with asthma or individuals with other respiratory and heart conditions."
2:28 a.m. PST Wednesday
Despite over 24 hours of swiftly spreading wildfire activity, no deaths have been attributed to the fires in Southern California. Mandatory evacuation orders now impact 200,000 people, who can shelter in one of several evacuation shelters set up around the area.
Dozens of school districts and several area colleges will remain closed on Wednesday. A full list of school and road closures, as well as important phone numbers and evacuation zones and shelters, can be found at ReadyVenturaCounty.org.
"The public did an outstanding job heeding our evacuation orders, getting out of these danger zones in a very prompt, timely manner," said Robert Welsbie, spokesman for the Ventura Fire Department.
Airplanes and helicopters are expected to "attack the fire at daybreak," according to the Ventura County Sheriff via ReadyVenturaCounty.com. Sunrise will occur at 6:45 a.m. local time.
A resurgence of stronger winds is expected to begin on Wednesday night.
"The fire danger on Thursday may become more extreme when compared to Tuesday as temperatures are expected to be higher and the strongest winds will cover a larger area of Southern California," warned AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.
Regardless of current evacuation orders, residents in the general vicinity of any fires should be prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice and have a plan to transport pets to a safe location.