Winds whip up wildfires, forcing mass evacuations in California

Flames from the Thomas fire burn above a truck on Highway 101 north of Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) Top News

Hot, dry Santa Ana winds are expected to fan several relentless wildfires in southern California on Thursday, where hundreds of houses have burned and tens of thousands have fled their homes around Los Angeles, the second-largest U.S. city. The winds, which blow westward from the California desert, were forecast to reach 75 mph (130 kph) on Thursday. That could stoke several blazes burning in the Los Angeles area that have already caused, according to local media, about 200,000 people to evacuate.

“Strong winds over night creating extreme fire danger,” said an alert sent by the countrywide emergency system in Los Angeles. Video and photographs on social media showed flame-covered hillsides along busy roadways as commuters slowly made their way to work or home, rows of houses reduced to ash and firefighters spraying water on walls of fire as they tried to save houses.

“We are in the beginning of a protracted wind event,” Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), told the Los Angeles Times. “There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds.” In the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, the Creek Fire destroyed at least 30 homes, blackened more than 12,000 acres (4,800 hectares) and forced the evacuation of 2,500 homes and a convalescent center.

Another fire, known as the Rye Fire, threatened more than 5,000 homes and structures northwest of Los Angeles. The Skirball Fire, which erupted early on Wednesday had burned about 500 acres (200 hectares) near large estates in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, was only 5 percent contained. Firefighters battled to save multimillion-dollar homes in the path of the flames.

Motorists on Highway 101 watch flames from the Thomas fire leap above the roadway north of Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region. About 200,000 people were under evacuation orders. No deaths and only a few injuries were reported. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

“These are days that break your heart,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a news conference. “These are also days that show the resilience of our city.” No civilian casualties or fatalities have been reported. Three firefighters were injured and hospitalized in stable condition, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

Dozens of schools across the area canceled classes on Thursday. The largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, burned more than 90,000 acres (36,000 hectares) after it destroyed more than 150 homes and threatened thousands more in Ventura, about 50 miles (80 km) northwest on Los Angeles.

A mansion that survived a wildfire sits on a hilltop as the Getty Center, top right, is visible in distance in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. A dangerous new wildfire erupted in the tony Bel Air area of Los Angeles early Wednesday as firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Additional evacuations were called for late on Wednesday in the Ventura area, where 50,000 people had already fled their homes over the last three days. “The danger is imminent,” Cal Fire said in its evacuation notice.

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