LOS ANGELES – The hundreds of firefighters trying on Thursday to control the wildfires that have destroyed thousands of acres in southern California and forced the evacuation of some 200,000 people are facing two of their worst enemies: dry conditions and winds gusting up to hurricane force – 128 kilometers (79 miles) per hour.
The four fires that have been burning for days northwest of Los Angeles – where they have damaged more than 200 buildings and forced the closure of schools, universities and highways, and led to a power blackout – are far from being under control despite the efforts of firefighters.
Ken Pimlott, the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), admitted that with such heavy winds firefighters have no ability to get control of the fires.
The danger is such that California authorities declared a “Code Purple” alert on Thursday due to “extreme” winds, something that had never been done before in the state.
The so-called Santa Ana Winds, which come at this time of year, are making it extremely difficult to deal with the fires, the biggest of which – dubbed “Thomas” – continues its destructive path through Ventura County, already having burned more then 38,850 hectares (about 97,000 acres), and is presently only 5 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.
The fire, which broke out on Monday, has forced the evacuation of some 50,000 people in Ventura County.
In Sylmar, the Creek fire has forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 people, burned more than 5,000 hectares and destroyed at least 30 homes.
In Beverly Hills’ exclusive Bel Air district, where many wealthy actors and other Hollywood moguls live, firefighters have brought the fire 20 percent under control, and the Sylmar fire is 10 percent under control, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in a Thursday morning press conference.
On Wednesday, the flames reached several luxury homes, including the mansion of communications magnate Rupert Murdoch.
The fire, which has consumed 192 hectares, has not continued to approach the Getty Museum, according to reports by Los Angeles authorities.
Another fire is being fought in Malibu, another exclusive sector on the Pacific Coast in Los Angeles County, according to the county fire department, although it may be brought under control fairly quickly thanks to the efforts of about 200 firefighters.
The red forest fire alert will be in place in the area until Saturday night, and nearby San Diego County is also preparing to deal with similar emergencies in the coming hours and days, according to San Diego fire chief Brian Fennessy.