Home / National News / High winds pick up, fueling intensity of Southern California wildfires


(LOS ANGELES) — Firefighters across Southern California are battling six major wildfires with brutal Santa Ana winds expected to continue fanning the flames through Saturday.  

The newest blazes, the Lilac fire in San Diego County and the Liberty fire in Riverside County, are now being fueled by continued Santa Ana winds and low humidity, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

According to ABC News meteorologist Daniel Manzo, there is not much relief in the forecast for those fire-ravaged areas. 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.

A 70-year-old woman was identified Friday as the first victim of the fires. Virginia Pesola, of Santa Paula, was killed in a car crash as she evacuated Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

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 ABC station KABC in Los Angeles through tears. “It’s so horrible. You never think that it’s going to happen to you, and it can.”

Winds are expected to die down slightly on Friday before picking up again in intensity on Saturday.

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 8,700 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 141,000 acres and forced over 212,000 residents from their homes.

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. The other four blazes continued to burn Friday with little containment.

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.

Thomas 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 132,000 acres of land by Friday morning and was just 10 percent contained, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

More than 88,000 residents have been evacuated, and 15,000 homes are threatened by the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Authorities on Thursday morning upgraded voluntary evacuation orders to mandatory for parts of Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County. New evacuations were ordered overnight into Friday morning near Fillmore.

The Thomas fire spread to Santa Barbara County late Thursday, prompting California Gov. Gerry Brown to issue a state of emergency for the county, the third to be designated.

There were 3,216 firefighting personnel on the scene of the massive blaze.

Authorities said 401 structures have been destroyed in the blaze and 81 more have been 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.

Creek fire

The Creek fire, in the Kagel Canyon area above Los Angeles’ Sylmar neighborhood, has scorched 15,323 acres of land, destroyed at least 32 buildings and damaged another 31. Over 150,000 residents have been evacuated and some 2,500 structures are threatened, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The blaze was 20 percent contained as of Thursday night, and 1,686 personnel are fighting the flames.

While no people have died in any of the fires, the Creek fire was responsible for the death of almost 40 horses at Rancho Padilla, according to ABC station KABC in Los Angeles. The horses were trapped in a barn that burned to the ground as the owners were evacuated with no warning.

All evacuations were lifted by Friday except for in the Limekiln Canyon.

Skirball fire

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 garnered nationwide 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 30 percent contained as of Friday morning — the highest containment of the six fires — and firefighters had managed to keep it from breaching containment lines.

Authorities said six structures have been lost in the blaze, with an additional 12 damaged. One firefighter suffered minor burns while fighting the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon because of the Skirball fire in the city’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

Rye fire

The Rye fire has scorched 7,000 acres in Santa Clarita, west of Valencia. The blaze was 25 percent contained as of Thursday night, though 5,420 homes are still threatened by the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

About 2,000 residents have been evacuated, though mandatory evacuation orders in the area have been lifted.

Some 775 firefighters were on the scene battling the Rye fire Wednesday afternoon.

Lilac fire

Flames from the Lilac fire are growing at a “dangerous rate” in San Diego County, where over 4,100 acres of land have been burned thus far. More than 1,000 structures are being threatened, at least 20 structures have been destroyed and an additional 12 structures have been damaged, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The blaze was 0 percent contained as of Friday morning.

AlertSanDiego, the region’s cellphone emergency alert system, had sent out 23,000 evacuation messages as of Friday morning, including 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.

Evacuation shelters have been set up at Fallbrook High School and Pala Casino.

Four civilians had suffered injuries and were taken to local hospitals, though authorities could not confirm their severity.

Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency in San Diego County due to the Lilac fire, his office announced Thursday afternoon.

Liberty fire

The Liberty fire, located in Riverside County near Murrieta, north of Temecula, has scorched 300 acres of land. It was 10 percent contained as of Friday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Two structures had been destroyed in the flames, but evacuation orders had been lifted for much of the area. Murrieta Mesa High School remained open as a shelter for some residents.

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