THOUSANDS FLEE AS WILDFIRES ENGULF ELITE LA HOMES
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