(LOS ANGELES) — Firefighters across Southern California made dramatic headway on Saturday to gain the upper hand in the week’s battle against six major wildfires powered by brutal Santa Ana winds that have dragged the state’s fire season well into Christmas.
On Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown surveyed the remains of Ventura’s Thomas fire which has charred 148,000 acres and 231 square miles is now 15 percent contained, fire officials said.
The governor advised that these fires and prolonged fire season stretching well into December is becoming the norm.
“[We’re] facing a new reality in the state,” he said. “It’s a horror and a horror we need to recover from.”
He also noted that the years of drought and climate change the result, he said experts say is that “California is burning up.”
From here on in California, Brown noted, fires are going to be more “intense” and penetrate lives and property.
“Individuals need to come together to make our communities livable,” he added.
The breakdown of the blazes and shift in winds have afforded firefighters in the region with much-needed respite.
The newest blazes, the Lilac fire in San Diego County and the Liberty fire in Riverside County which is 20 percent contained as of Saturday afternoon, are also being fueled by continued Santa Ana winds and low humidity, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
With the good news on the horizon, ABC News meteorologist Daniel Manzo stressed that the forecast for those fire-ravaged areas remains serious. Extreme fire danger will remain in the region through the weekend. Red Flag Warnings have remained in effect for much of Southern California with peak wind gusts of 30 to 50 mph. Low relative humidity –- as low as 5 percent — is likely through this period, as well, Manzo said.
Winds could exceed 50 mph in the mountains east of San Diego. This area will be of particular concern for fire growth on Saturday night and Sunday.
Red flag warnings have been extended across much of Southern California through Saturday, and high wind warnings are in effect for mountain and valley areas in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Winds gusted to over 60 mph in Ventura and Los Angeles counties on Thursday, causing embers to spread even more. Gusts were in the 30 to 50 mph range in San Diego County. Much of Southern California is also experiencing humidity levels in the teens or even single digits. Relative humidity in San Diego on Thursday afternoon was just 5 percent.
As nearly 8,500 firefighters battled the first four large wildfires, two new ones erupted Thursday and spread rapidly, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Overall, the six blazes have burned more than 175,000 acres and forced over 212,000 residents from their homes.
A 70-year-old woman was identified Friday as the first victim of the fires.
The Thomas fire in Ventura County, the first to ignite, has burned well over 100,000 acres and is expected to intensify because of the increasing winds. The Skirball fire is small, but its threat to heavily populated areas of Los Angeles has drawn widespread attention.
All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and 17 schools on Los Angeles’ west side were shuttered through Friday. At least 265 schools have been closed. UCLA canceled classes Thursday because of the Skirball fire.
The Thomas fire in Ventura County, the largest of the six blazes, started Monday night as a 50-acre brush fire in foothills east of Santa Paula and grew to 10,000 acres in just four hours, authorities said.
The fire had burned 148,000 acres of land by Saturday morning and was just 15 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
More than 88,000 residents were evacuated, and 15,000 structures are threatened by the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The Thomas fire spread to Santa Barbara County late Thursday, prompting California Gov. Jerry Brown to issue a state of emergency for the county, the third to be designated.
There were 3,993 firefighting personnel on the scene of the massive blaze.
Authorities said 537 structures were destroyed in the blaze and 118 more were damaged.
Officials were concerned about part of the Thomas fire heading northeast and threatening a nursing home in Ojai. The 25 residents and staffers there were evacuated as a precaution, authorities said.
The Creek fire, in the Kagel Canyon area above Los Angeles’ Sylmar neighborhood, has scorched 15,619 acres of land, destroyed at least 105 buildings and damaged another 70. Over 150,000 residents were evacuated and some 2,500 structures are threatened, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The blaze was 80 percent contained as of Saturday morning, and 1,964 personnel are fighting the flames.
The Creek fire was responsible for the death of almost 40 horses at Rancho Padilla, according to ABC station KABC-TV in Los Angeles. The horses were trapped in a barn that burned to the ground as the owners were evacuated with no warning.
All evacuation orders and warnings were lifted by Saturday morning.
The Rye fire has scorched 6,049 acres in Santa Clarita, west of Valencia. The blaze was 65 percent contained as of Saturday morning, though 5,460 structures are still threatened by the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
About 2,000 residents were evacuated, though mandatory evacuation orders in the area have been lifted.
There were 813 personnel on scene battling the Rye fire Saturday morning.
The Skirball fire has burned just 475 acres of land so far, but its proximity to Los Angeles and responsibility for briefly shutting down the infamously crowded 405 Freeway has drawn national attention.
The fire is threatening the Getty Center, a museum in western Los Angeles. Officials were focused on keeping the flames from jumping the freeway and heading east. The blaze was 50 percent contained as of Saturday morning, and firefighters have managed to keep it from breaching containment lines.
Six structures were lost in the fire, with an additional 12 damaged. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries while battling the flames, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon because of the Skirball fire in the city’s Bel-Air neighborhood.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Friday that flames from the Lilac fire were growing at a “dangerous rate” in San Diego County, where 4,100 acres of land have been burned thus far. At least 105 structures were destroyed and 15 were damaged by the blaze, while an additional 1,500 are threatened.
The fire was 20 percent contained as of Saturday morning.
AlertSanDiego, the region’s cellphone emergency alert system, had sent out 23,000 evacuation messages as of Friday morning, including for new evacuations in Oceanside.
Officials said the Lilac fire began late Thursday morning near Fallbrook and had grown to 50 acres in just an hour. Peak gusts had reached 66 mph Thursday afternoon in Pala, California, near the blaze, contributing to the rapid spread of flames.
Four civilians had suffered injuries and were taken to local hospitals, though authorities could not confirm the severity of the injuries.
Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency in San Diego County due to the Lilac fire, his office announced Thursday afternoon.
The Liberty fire, located in Riverside County near Murrieta, north of Temecula, has scorched 300 acres of land. It was 90 percent contained as of Friday night, according to the Murrieta Fire and Rescue.
Seven structures were destroyed in the flames, but authorities have lifted all evacuation orders for the area.
One woman, Lauren Fuga, said she watched in shock as the Liberty fire burned down part of her home in Murrieta.
“I just, I’m at a loss for words,” Fuga told KABC-TV through tears. “It’s so horrible. You never think that it’s going to happen to you, and it can.”
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