(New York Times) Southern California Fires Live Updates- Threats in Ventura and San Diego Counties

A home is engulfed in flames as the Thomas fire continues to burn in Ventura County- LA Times


Southern California fire fighters continuously battle wild fires ignited by extreme Santa Ana winds. The New York Times has taken the liberty to constantly produce live updates as the fires continue to rage on. Here are the updates as of 8:15 Pacific Time. For more information please click here.

LOS ANGELES — Firefighters battled to hold back flames that on Thursday threatened tens of thousands of homes in Southern California and forced new evacuations, as officials implored residents to remain vigilant in the face of a rash of wildfires across greater Los Angeles that will quite likely not abate for days.

More than 200,000 people in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties have been told to leave their homes. The city of Ojai, nearly surrounded by blazes, was evacuated on Thursday, as were parts of the coastal city of Carpinteria. And hundreds of schools were closed and roads were blocked. With well over 100,000 acres scorched, residents were on edge, watching the news footage of hills and canyons going up in smoke.

Across seven counties, millions of cellphones shook and squawked with a warning of “extreme fire danger,” in California’s largest-ever use of a disaster alert system. Other automated alerts warned people to pack up food, water and essential documents, and to be ready to flee on a few minutes’ notice.

The bone-dry Santa Ana winds blowing from the northeast picked up speed, gusting to 60 miles per hour in places, adding to firefighters’ struggles with thick brush and rugged terrain, though it did not reach the extreme speeds forecasters had feared. Officials warned that with several large fires still burning and no more than 15 percent contained, and winds easing a bit but expected to remain high on Friday, dangerous surprises could still be in store.

As if to illustrate the danger, several new fires cropped up across Southern California. A fire near Bonsall in San Diego County ignited and within hours spread to more than 3,000 acres with zero containment, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate, destroying at least 20 structures, damaging others, and threatening thousands more.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency in San Diego County on Thursday evening as local officials there widened the evacuation zone and warned that conditions were expected to worsen.

It wasn’t all bad news, though. By Thursday night, several top local and state officials said they were encouraged by improving conditions in the city and county of Los Angeles. And as a result, officials announced that some Angelenos would be allowed to return home starting Thursday evening.


Where the Fires Are Spreading in Southern California

Wildfires burned near and in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California, forcing thousands to evacuate.


Major Developments:

• Officially, the fires have destroyed more than 400 homes, businesses and other buildings, and damaged others. Emergency workers say that number could rise as they re-enter the charred areas.

• The threat was so severe that for the first time, state officials used the highest category in their color-coded fire hazard warning system. They painted much of Southern California purple on Thursday, for extreme danger, and many people received warnings to be ready to flee. Here’s what to do when you’re preparing to evacuate.

• Fire and smoke forced the closing of the 101 freeway — the main coastal route north from Los Angeles — between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Here is our list of road closures in the Los Angeles area.

• Hundreds of schools were ordered closed for the rest of the week because of the thick blanket of smoke filling the skies. The Los Angeles Unified School District said at least 322 schools canceled classes on Thursday and Friday.

• Some residents who were forced to evacuate their homes because of the fires in the San Fernando Valley and in Bel-Air were told they could return on Thursday night. Charlie Beck, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said an “inordinate amount” of police officers would be present as the repopulation took place.

• Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, said late Thursday that he was not aware of any human deaths connected to the Los Angeles fires. But Daryl L. Osby, the chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department confirmed reports that horses had perished.

Forced to flee their mobile homes, immigrants wonder what there is to return to.

Many of those displaced by the Creek Fire, which has chewed through more than 15,000 acres, are immigrants living in mobile home communities in the northern San Fernando Valley. More than three out of every four residents in Sylmar, a suburban, working-class area of the valley, are Latino.

“The mobile home was the investment we made when we decided to build a future here,” said Moises Rodriguez, a father of four who moved to Sylmar from Mexico in the late ’90s and bought the trailer in 2009.

He and his family fled as flames engulfed the hillside behind them, and like many others, they have not been allowed to return to check on their homes. Bleary-eyed after two sleepless nights, he said, “Now I don’t know if it is still standing.”

He paid $25,000 for their two-bedroom trailer, in the Blue Star Mobile Home Park, where his two sons share one room, his two daughters the other, and Mr. Rodriguez and his wife, Aracely, sleep on a pull-out couch in the living room.

They do not have homeowner’s insurance, and when asked about savings, Mr. Rodriguez said through tears that they had none. As an undocumented immigrant, he is not entitled to receive federal emergency assistance to repair or rebuild his home, even though his children are American citizens.

“Unfortunately, we were not prepared,” he said.

On Thursday, the Rodriguez family occupied six cots in the Sylmar Recreation Center, temporarily turned into a shelter. The only belongings they had brought with them filled a couple of backpacks tucked under their space.

They have called the mobile home park’s management for news of conditions there, but no one answers.

For now, the best Mr. Rodriguez can do, he said, is return to work on Friday at a plant where he packs cements into large sacks.

“I’ve already missed two days,” he said. “Tomorrow I plan to report at 7 a.m., even if it’s heavy work and my head and body are weak.”

Flames spread quickly in the San Diego area.

A brush fire in San Diego County spread quickly on Thursday, and was still “growing at a dangerous rate,” state officials said. An aerial video from a local television station showed several homes on fire in the Bonsall area, roughly 45 miles north of San Diego.

State officials said two people were being treated for burns.

Many parts of the Bonsall area were under evacuation orders, and officials encouraged residents with livestock to take their animals to the county fairgrounds. The area is known for its equestrian facilities.

Two casinos and a high school were opened as evacuation centers for residents.

Ron Lane, San Diego County’s deputy chief administrative officer, said a large portion of a mobile home park had been destroyed, along with other houses in the Bonsall area. He said more evacuations would be ordered Thursday night, and urged people to prepare to leave their homes.

“This is a very dangerous period of time we’re going through in the County of San Diego over the next 24, 48 hours,” Mr. Lane said. “We have to be resilient.”

A fire erupts in Riverside County.

State and local officials said the fire near Murrieta, in Riverside County east of Los Angeles, continued to grow on Thursday, reaching 300 acres by late afternoon. One structure was destroyed, officials said, and the fire was 5 percent contained.

County officials said the brush fire was “burning at a moderate to rapid rate of spread” in an area of “heavy fuels.” Evacuations were ordered in some areas, and about 300 firefighters from several departments were at the scene.

Residents are evacuating as Ojai is ringed by flames.

Ojai, a mountain-fringed town known for its unique shops and yoga retreats, was among the areas evacuated in Ventura County, where a fire had burned 115,000 acres by late Thursday with only 5 percent containment.

“We’ve always been under threat of fire; we’re used to it,” said Suzanne White, who drove past curtains of flames above the 101 freeway as she fled her Ojai home. “But this year, the fires are raging so fast and furiously that you can’t get ahead of them.”

The state firefighting agency said Thursday that “significant fire growth” had been reported north of Ojai, and the state’s fire map showed the community virtually surrounded.

Ojai, population 7,500, was among several cities threatened in Ventura County, where more than 400 buildings had been destroyed as of Thursday night and 85 more damaged. Around 15,000 more structures were threatened, and about 2,500 firefighters were assisting.

“It burns,” Ms. White said, “and it keeps burning.”

Part of the region’s 101 freeway was shut down Thursday morning as the fire reached the highway and edged northwest of Ventura.

“The entire town slept with one eye open,” a Ventura resident, Tracie Fickenscher, said.

Read more from people who were at the front lines of the fires here.

The horses were much calmer than their owners.

With flakes of ash the size of flower petals falling along the Pacific Ocean, Brian Holt, 55, paused along a coastal road on Thursday afternoon to take a picture of the smoke-blackened skies.

Mr. Holt has spent the last four days shuttling horses to safety from ranches threatened by the fire in Ventura County. He drove the animals through canyons filled with flame. “You could feel the heat,” he said. “I had to check my truck to make sure the paint hadn’t bubbled.”

The horses, he said, had been much calmer than their panicked owners. “For some of those folks the horses are their children,” he said.

He had been surviving on catnaps since Sunday. “This one is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You had to load up and go.”

A ‘miraculous result’ in Los Angeles, but warnings of danger still to come.

The fire in Bel-Air was only 30 percent contained, but it had only destroyed six structures and damaged 12 others, which the area’s City Council member, Paul Koretz, called “almost a miraculous result.”

“Nothing jumped the freeway, which is one of our greatest concerns,” he said. “Everything went as well as it could.”

Fire trucks from all over the state — Alameda County in the Bay Area, Riverside County to the east — lined the neighborhood’s narrow streets, joined by several crews from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Hugh Seligman, 71, returned to his intact home on Thursday, though it remained under an evacuation order.

“I would rather be here and be vigilant myself and get these guys to help if I need it,” he said. “I’ve spoken to loads of firefighters and nobody has told me I can’t be here.”

The thick smoke that smothered west Los Angeles on Wednesday had almost completely dissipated. As people in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, and parts of the San Fernando Valley, made their way through a choking, gray-brown haze, many Los Angeles residents were treated to a cloudless blue sky.

Along the 405 freeway, which had been shut down for part of the morning commute Wednesday, cars moved even more quickly than the usual crawl.

But in west Los Angeles, as in other communities, officials were not declaring victory, insisting instead on the need to remain vigilant and watch the weather.

Mr. Hogan, the assistant city fire chief, said, “In a wind-driven event, wind is king.”

Source NY Times

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