Schools and freeways closed, nearly 200,000 people forced to flee as wildfires tear through Southern California

California wildfires December 2017

  • Multiple wildfires continue to race through parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties in Southern California.
  • The three largest blazes — known as the Thomas Fire, the Creek Fire, and the Rye Fire — are burning around Ventura, Sylmar, and Santa Clarita, scorching thousands of acres and showing no signs of stopping.
  • Many areas are under mandatory evacuation orders, affecting nearly 200,000 people.

Southern California firefighters are battling several out-of-control wildfires burning through parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, including a new blaze in a wealthy neighborhood on the western edge of LA.

Here are the numbers as of Thursday morning, according to Los Angeles County officials and Cal Fire:

  • Thomas Fire in Ventura County: 96,000 acres, 5% containment.
  • Creek Fire in Sylmar: 12,605 acres, 5% containment, 30-50 structures damaged/destroyed, 2,500 homes threatened.
  • Rye Fire in Santa Clarita: 7,000 acres, 10% containment.
  • Skirball Fire in Bel Air: 475 acres, 5% containment. The 405 Freeway is closed in both directions from the 101 to 10 freeways.

The first and largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, started Monday night in Ventura County. As of Thursday morning, it has destroyed at least 150 structures out of at least 12,000 that are threatened. Local fire authorities warn that those numbers could rise dramatically as winds pick up throughout the day.

Thursday morning saw powerful winds increase throughout the region, forcing more evacuations and making it all but impossible to contain the fires. The National Weather Service is forecasting wind gusts of up to 80 mph on Thursday.

"There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds," Ken Pimlott, California's state fire chief told The LA Times. "At the end of the day, we need everyone in the public to listen and pay attention. This is not ‘watch the news and go about your day.’ This is pay attention minute-by-minute … keep your head on a swivel."

The flames in Ventura County and have now reached the Pacific Ocean. Mandatory evacuation orders affect nearly 200,000 people, and authorities have closed the 405 Freeway, causing gridlock throughout the region.

Authorities shut down the 101 Freeway early Thursday morning between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

California wildfires December 2017

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, freeing up state funds to help tackle the wildfires. About 1,700 firefighters were battling the blaze as of Thursday morning.

"This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we'll continue to tackle it with all we've got," Brown said. "It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so."

Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told reporters that the fires' growth has been "absolutely exponential."

"These are days that break your heart," Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles' mayor, told reporters. "These are also days that show the resilience of our city."

Weather conditions have aligned to make the LA area somewhat of a tinderbox. Wind speeds of up to 80 mph were recorded on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. The region is under a "red flag" advisory because of Santa Ana winds expected to blow through Friday, the National Weather Service said.

Such an environment makes containment much more difficult for firefighters. Cal Fire, a state fire-safety agency, said on Wednesday that because of the high winds forecasted for Thursday, there would be "no ability to fight" the spread of the fires.

"All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people, and protect structures," Lorenzen said.

The NWS warned on Monday, hours before the blazes started, that there would "be the potential for very rapid spread of wildfire" and "extreme fire behavior."

southern california red flag warning december 2017

As the Ventura fire raged on Tuesday, another one near the Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar broke out and has grown to 12,605 acres across Sylmar, Lake View Terrace, and Shadow Hills. Dozens of structures have burned, and there was 5% containment as of Thursday morning, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Authorities said a portion of the 210 Freeway would be closed through at least Thursday morning, and mandatory evacuations remain in effect for areas in the path of the flames on both sides of the freeway, according to KPCC, a local NPR affiliate.

The Los Angeles Unified School District closed more than 50 schools on Wednesday.

socal fire 2017

The Rye Fire, which broke out near Santa Clarita late Tuesday morning, has burned 7,000 acres, was 10% contained as of Thursday morning. More than 500 firefighters were on the scene there.

The Skirball Fire started early Wednesday near the Bel Air section of Los Angeles, and has grown to 475 acres with 5% containment as of Thursday morning, with 200 firefighters battling the blaze. It prompted the closure of the busy 405 Freeway and threatened the Getty Center art museum.

"You can only imagine the impact this weather is having on the flaming front," David Richardson, the Los Angeles County deputy fire chief, told the LA Times. "This wind is what's being dealt with at this point in time. It makes things very ... difficult because we're chasing the fire — we're chasing the fire trying to get ahead of it, trying to get in front to provide structure defense."

California has been ravaged by wildfires in recent months. In October, a series of fires destroyed communities in Northern California's Napa and Sonoma counties in what is considered the deadliest wildfire in the state's history. Experts said at the time that it would take years for the state to recover.

Here's a map of the location of the current fires:

california fires

SEE ALSO: Horrifying images of the raging wildfires in Southern California show how rapidly destruction has spread

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