‘Mother Na­ture’s go­ing to de­cide when we have the abil­ity to put it out’

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - WORLD NEWS - AMANDA LEE MY­ERS and AN­DREW DAL­TON

VEN­TURA, Calif. — A dan­ger­ous new wild­fire erupted in the tony Bel Air area of Los An­ge­les early Wed­nes­day as fire­fight­ers bat­tled three other de­struc­tive blazes across South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Flames ex­ploded be­fore dawn on the steep slopes of the east side of Sepul­veda Pass, which car­ries heav­ily trav­elled In­ter­state 405 through the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains where ridge tops are cov­ered with ex­pen­sive homes. At least two could be seen burn­ing.

Hun­dreds of fire­fight­ers bat­tled flames on the ground as air­craft dropped wa­ter and re­tar­dant near neigh­bour­hoods on the east side of the pass. Com­muter traf­fic snarled in the pass and be­yond.

When fire­fight­ers told Mau­rice Kaboud to evac­u­ate his home in Bel-Air he de­cided to stay and pro­tect his home. The 59-year-old stood in the back­yard of his mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar home as fires raged nearby.

“God will­ing, this will slow down so the fire­fight­ers can do their job,” Kaboud said.

Hun­dreds of homes burned in the area dur­ing the fa­mous Bel Air Fire of 1961. The Getty Cen­ter art com­plex, on the west side of the pass, em­ploys ex­ten­sive fire pro­tec­tion meth­ods. Its web­site says it was closed to pro­tect its col­lec­tion from smoke.

Else­where, use of fire­fight­ing air­craft has been con­strained by the same winds that have spread the fires.

The planes and he­li­copters es­sen­tial to tam­ing wild­fires have been mostly grounded be­cause it’s too dan­ger­ous to fly them in the strong wind. Tues­day saw gusts of over 80 km/h.

Com­man­ders hoped to have them back in the air Wed­nes­day to bat­tle 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 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, a 262-sq. km wild­fire in Ven­tura County north­west of Los An­ge­les, had nearly reached the Pa­cific on Tues­day night af­ter start­ing 48 km 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.

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 ex­pected a shel­ter in Ven­tura County to be at ca­pac­ity Tues­day night. Fred Mariscal said 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.

JAE C. HONG/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A wild­fire threat­ens homes as it burns along the 101 Free­way in Ven­tura, Calif.

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