Destructive California Brush Fires Threaten More Towns As Residents Flee

U.S.


The Thomas Fire in Ventura County raged toward Santa Barbara County on Thursday, prompting hundreds of mandatory evacuations.

Pushed by powerful winds, the destructive brush fire in Ventura County, California, exploded to 96,000 acres and raged toward Santa Barbara County and the Ojai region early Thursday morning, prompting mandatory evacuations for hundreds of residents and forcing the closure of the 101 Freeway for several hours.

Afp Contributor / AFP / Getty Images

Residents describe decisions to stay behind: “You have one second to get out, and you make a choice”

Residents describe decisions to stay behind: "You have one second to get out, and you make a choice"

Sean Novack, center, and two of his neighbors look toward plumes of smoke from diminishing flames across a railroad track.

Brianna Sacks / BuzzFeed News

Los Angeles firefighters trying to get a handle on fires before winds pick up once again

Los Angeles firefighters trying to get a handle on fires before winds pick up once again

A Los Angeles County firefighter prepares to battle a hot spot on the Creek Fire in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles.

Chris Carlson / AP

A fast-moving fire in San Diego County has burned through at least 500 acres within two hours and destroyed five homes, officials said.

Dubbed the Lilac Fire, the blaze is the latest in a series of brush fires that have destroyed homes and buildings across Southern California this week.

The fire has prompted fire officials to shut down Old Highway 395, between Lilac Road and Highway 76, in San Diego, California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

At least 1,000 structures are threatened, officials said.

Officials have also issued mandatory evacuations in the area, including the nearby Sullivan Middle School.

Fire officials are asking for help from nearby military bases for aircraft to fight the fire.

—Salvador Hernandez

Los Angeles firefighters have made some inroads in the Creek and Skirball fires, hoping to build containment lines before strong winds pick up again, officials said.

The Skirball Fire, which began burning early Wednesday morning, was 20% contained as of Thursday afternoon after firefighters built a perimeter on the west side of the fire, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters.

“We spent a lot of time in the last 24 hours getting a barrier on the west end,” he said.

The fire, burning in the wealthy neighborhood of Bel Air, destroyed four homes and damaged 12 others, Garcetti said. So far, it has burned 475 acres.

The Creek Fire in the Sylmar area was 10% contained as of Thursday, a slight increase from the 5% containment that was maintained Wednesday. The fire has scorched 12,605 acres and destroyed 15 structures so far, Garcetti said.

Though the containment lines built have been modest gains for firefighters, Garcetti said they will hopefully help keep a handle on the fires as strong winds continue until Saturday.

“These conditions, combined with the heat that is now coming into the area, the dryness, the amount of vegetation in some of the areas that have not burned makes this still a very threatening environment,” he said.

—Salvador Hernandez

Andrew Guernsey had to evacuate twice in one night, but as flames neared his parents' home in Ojai, he and some of the neighbors and off-duty firefighters tried to make a stand.

“The flames came to our doorstep,” Guernsey, 30, told BuzzFeed News. “Our house is safe for now.”

More than 50,000 people have been ordered to evacuate as the Thomas Fire has burned through more than 96,000 acres in Ventura County. The fire has been burning for three days, but firefighters remain cautious as strong winds threaten to fuel its size.

Despite warnings from public officials, some residents have stayed behind or returned to their homes with flames still burning nearby, hoping to either save their houses or see if they survived the night.

Chip Barley was one of those who ran back and hosed down his friend's home in Faria Beach after firefighters had already snuffed out wild flames early Thursday. Ferocious gusts had spread the fire into rows of palm trees, lapping railroad tracks.

Above the wind, loud booms sounded from an oil field across the freeway. Barley and several other residents donning fast masks and, specked in black ash, wet their homes, many of them wood.

“We got really lucky,” he said. “The firefighters were here at the exact right time.”

Around 300 residents in the Carpinteria area of Santa Barbara County were evacuated at 1:45 a.m. as the Thomas Fire threatened the community.

Officials also closed the 101 Freeway between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for several hours, before reopening it on Thursday morning.

The Thomas Fire, the largest in a series of blazes that have scorched tens of thousands of acres in Southern California and destroyed scores of homes, was 5% contained as of Thursday.

The Thomas Fire, the largest in a series of blazes that have scorched tens of thousands of acres in Southern California and destroyed scores of homes, was 5% contained as of Thursday.

Afp Contributor / AFP / Getty Images

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The fire began in Santa Paula on Monday before spreading to more than 10 miles — reaching the Pacific Ocean. It prompted Ventura County, Santa Paula, and the city of Ventura to declare a local emergency, with evacuation orders affecting more than 50,000 people. At least 150 structures have also been damaged in the Thomas Fire.

White House spokesperson, Sarah Sanders, said Thursday that the White House was in regular contact with FEMA as well as state and local authorities to ensure “that we are ready and able to help when needed and requested by the authorities.”

Another resident returned after seeing palm trees on her street on fire. It was the second time she was forced to evacuate because of fires in two years.

“Every cliche you ever heard is true,” she said. “You have one second to get out, and you make a choice.”

Sean Novack, who lives in a wooden beach house, evacuated his home Thursday morning. He ran back later the same day just to see if it survived the fire.

“These fires just keep hopping around and it's like, you think you're in the clear and, an hour later, there's fire basically at your damn doorstep.”

—Brianna Sacks

Los Angeles County officials warned of wind gusts of up to 70 to 80 miles an hour in some areas starting Thursday night. These “hurricane-force winds” were expected to “drive the fire in a way that is unimaginable,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonell said.

Multiple school districts, including the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the Ojai Unified School District, closed all schools on Thursday on account of the fire's unpredictability. The Los Angeles Unified School District said many as 265 schools would remain closed on Thursday and Friday.

Among the other major fires, the 11,377-acre Creek Fire around the Sylmar neighborhood, which destroyed 15 structures, was 10% contained as of Thursday as firefighters fought high winds, poor access, and steep terrain.

Among the other major fires, the 11,377-acre Creek Fire around the Sylmar neighborhood, which destroyed 15 structures, was 10% contained as of Thursday as firefighters fought high winds, poor access, and steep terrain.

David Mcnew / Getty Images

The 7,000-acre Rye Fire in Santa Clarita was 15% contained on Thursday, but officials said residents should remain vigilant because of strong winds.

The 475-acre Skirball Fire, which prompted the temporary closure of a major freeway and destroyed six homes in the wealthy Bel-Air neighborhood, was 5% contained on Thursday. The fire also threatened the nearby landmark Getty Center and forced more than 700 evacuations in the area.

Two other smaller fires that broke out in San Bernardino County — the 260-acre Mountain Fire and the 34-acre Meyers Fire — were fully contained on Wednesday.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.

LINK: Brush Fire Tears Through Bel-Air, Burning Homes And Shutting Down Major LA Freeway

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