Winds churn explosive California wildfires

Ferocious Santa Ana winds raking Southern California whipped explosive wildfires Tuesday, prompting evacuation orders for thousands of homes

A firefighter hoses down smoldering debris in Ventura, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (Daniel Dreifuss via AP)

The same vicious winds that turned three Southern California wildfires into destructive dynamos were also making the firefight more difficult.

The water-dropping planes and helicopters essential to taming and containing wildfires have been mostly grounded because it’s too dangerous to fly them in the strong wind. Tuesday saw gusts of over 50 mph (80 kph).

Commanders hoped to have them back in the air on Wednesday morning, but all indications were that the winds will be whipping then too, fanning the flames that spurred evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people, destroyed nearly 200 homes and remained mostly out control.

“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”

Southern California’s so-called Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.

The largest and most destructive of the fires, an 85-square-mile (220-sq. kilometre) wildfire in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles (48 kilometres) inland a day earlier.

The wildfire jumped the major artery U.S. Highway 101 to a rocky beach northwest of Ventura, bringing new evacuations, though officials said the sparse population and lack of vegetation in the area meant it was not overly dangerous, and the highway was not closed.

Related: Californians brace for emotional toll of wildfires

The fire had destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds more homes have already been lost, though firefighters have been unable to assess them.

Lisa Kermode and her children returned to their home Tuesday after evacuating Monday to find their home and world in ashes, including a Christmas tree and the presents they had just bought.

“We got knots in our stomach coming back up here,” Kermode said. “We lost everything, everything, all our clothes, anything that was important to us. All our family heirlooms — it’s not sort of gone, it’s completely gone.”

Mansions and modest homes alike were in flames in the city. Dozens of houses in one neighbourhood burned to the ground.

John Keasler, 65, and his wife Linda raced out of their apartment building as the flames approached, then stood and watched the fire burn it to the ground.

“It is sad,” Keasler said. “We loved this place. We lost everything.”

Linda Keasler said they were just glad to be alive despite losing so much.

“Those things we can always get back,” she said. “The truth is it is just things and thank god no one died.”

Some 12,000 structures were under threat.

A spokesman for the American Red Cross says they expect a shelter in Ventura County to be at capacity Tuesday night.

Fred Mariscal says Red Cross officials expect about 400 people at the shelter Tuesday night.

He says the shelter is serving meals, providing a mobile shower truck and has doctors and nurses on hand to provide medication for residents who were displaced by the wildfire.

While the blazes brought echoes of the firestorm in Northern California that killed 44 people two months ago, no deaths and only a handful of injuries had been reported.

In the foothills of northern Los Angeles, 30 structures burned. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the gusty winds expected to last most of the week had created a dangerous situation and he urged 150,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders to leave their homes before it’s too late.

Related: Death and destruction, hope and heroism in California fires

“We have lost structures, we have not lost lives,” he said. “Do not wait. Leave your homes.”

Fires are not typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region over the past six months.

Fires in suburban settings like these are likely to become more frequent as climate change makes fire season a year-round threat and will put greater pressure on local budgets, said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College who has written extensively about wildfires.

“There are going to be far greater numbers that are going to be evacuated, as we’re seeing now,” Miller said. “These fires are not just fast and furious, but they’re really expensive to fight.”

In LA County, television shows with large outdoor sets including HBO’s “Westworld” and CBS’s “S.W.A.T.” halted production of because of worries about the safety of cast and crew.

And the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, which hold workouts near the Ventura County fire, cancelled practice Wednesday.

___

Dalton reported from Los Angeles. Krysta Fauria in Santa Paula and Brian Melley, Robert Jablon, John Antczak, Chris Carlson and Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Amanda Lee Myers And Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATED: Royal Jubilee gets 15 more patient beds for Greater Victoria end-of-life care

New patient beds in hospice and acute palliative care to be in place by spring 2020

Police impound 19 vehicles for excessive speed on Malahat

Excessive speed is classified as going more than 40 km/h over the limit in that stretch

Beaches near Sidney’s Tsehum Harbour to receive first clean up in years

Peninsula Streams Society hopes to attract 50 volunteers for the Saturday event

Food truck pilot program in Saanich parks gets the green light from council

Pilot program will see food trucks permited in certain parks as early as next summer

‘Homespun’ brings six Greater Victoria artists together for genre-bending music

Highlands Music Coffee House returns Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

‘A loud sonic boom’: Gabriola Island residents recount fatal plane crash

Area where the plane went down is primarily a residential neighbourhood, RCMP say

One man dead after car crash in Nanaimo

One person died, another was injured in the accident which happened Wednesday on Nanaimo Lakes Road

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of Dec. 10

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you have a real or artificial Christmas tree?

The lights are up, holiday shoppers are bustling through the streets and… Continue reading

‘Honest mistake:’ RCMP says B.C. cannabis shop can keep image of infamous Mountie

Sam Steele wearing military, not RCMP uniform in image depicted in Jimmy’s Cannabis window

B.C. conservation officers put down fawn blinded by BB gun on Vancouver Island

Young deer found near construction site in Hammond Bay area in Nanaimo, B.C.

Laid-off forest workers converge on B.C. legislature

Loggers call for action on strike, provincial stumpage

B.C. guide fined $2K in first conviction under new federal whale protection laws

Scott Babcock found guilty of approaching a North Pacific humpback whale at less than 100 metres

Feds urge Air Canada to fix booking problems as travel season approaches

The airline introduced the new reservation system more than three weeks ago

Most Read