THOU­SANDS FLEE AS WILD­FIRES EN­GULF ELITE LA HOMES

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - World -

An in­ferno has en­gulfed the Los An­ge­les re­gion, forc­ing more than 200,000 peo­ple to evac­u­ate and threat­en­ing thou­sands of homes, in­clud­ing the luxe Bel-Air neigh­bour­hood dot­ted with man­sions.

The flames have swal­lowed some 32,000ha in just over a day since the “Thomas” fire, cur­rently the state’s largest, broke out, leav­ing at least one dead in an area about 45 min­utes from down­town LA.

High winds caused an­other wave of wild­fires to erupt yes­ter­day, leav­ing the Bel-Air area bat­tling grid­locked heavy traf­fic as ash and smoke churned over the smoul­der­ing hill­side.

From the beach­side city of Ven­tura, where rows of homes were lev­elled, to the rugged foothills north of Los An­ge­les, where more than two dozen horses died at a board­ing sta­ble, to Bel-Air, where the likes of Elon Musk and Bey­once re­side, fierce Santa Ana winds sweep­ing in from the desert fanned the flames and fears.

“God will­ing, this will slow down so the fire­fight­ers can do their job,” said LA res­i­dent Mau­rice Kaboud, who ig­nored an evac­u­a­tion order and stood at the ready with a gar­den hose.

Los An­ge­les mayor Eric Garcetti was forced to de­clare a state of emer­gency and said more than 230,000 peo­ple had evac­u­ated LA and Ven­tura coun­ties.

“These are days that break your heart but … shows the re­silience of our city,” he said.

The “Skir­ball” fire ig­nited

early yes­ter­day and quickly grew to en­gulf some 60ha, with fore­cast­ers pre­dict­ing that 40km/h winds could cause fur­ther spread­ing, threat­en­ing mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar homes and the ac­claimed Getty Cen­tre mu­seum. Dozens of schools were also closed.

Fire de­part­ments from across the state ar­rived to help bat­tle the fe­ro­cious wild­fires, as heavy winds ex­pected to con­tinue for an­other two days com­pli­cated their strug­gle to con­tain the flames.

“We’re ba­si­cally in an ur­ban fire­fight in Ven­tura, where if you can keep that house from burn­ing, you might be able to slow the fire down,” said Tim Chavez, a fire be­hav­iour spe­cial­ist at the blaze. “But that’s about it.”

The Na­tional Weather Service pre­dicted “ex­tremely crit­i­cal fire weather,” say­ing wind gusts could hit 112km/h in some ar­eas.

Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor Jerry Brown de­clared a state of emer­gency over the area on Tues­day, an­nounc­ing: “This fire is very dan­ger­ous and spread­ing rapidly.

“It’s crit­i­cal res­i­dents stay ready and evac­u­ate im­me­di­ately if told to do so.”

Fire­fight­ers bat­tle a blaze in Ven­tura County while a cou­ple (far left) em­brace af­ter los­ing their home. Wild­fires have wreaked havoc (in­sets) across the Los An­ge­les re­gion. Pic­tures: AFP, AP

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