Winds to com­pli­cate wild­fire fight

Waterloo Region Record - - WORLD - Amanda Lee My­ers and An­drew Dalton

VEN­TURA, Calif. — South­ern Cal­i­for­nia has felt yel­low wind, or­ange wind, and red wind. But never pur­ple wind. Un­til now.

The colour-coded sys­tem show­ing the ex­pected strength of the winds driving the re­gion’s fierce wild­fires has reached un­charted ter­ri­tory, push­ing past red, which means “high” into the colour that means “ex­treme.”

The fore­cast for Thurs­day was pur­ple.

“We’ve never used pur­ple be­fore,” said Ken Pim­lott, di­rec­tor at the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion.

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia has al­ready been hit hard by three ma­jor fires that have put tens of thou­sands of peo­ple un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders and de­stroyed nearly 200 homes and build­ings, a fig­ure that is al­most certain to grow.

But the hard-won progress of fire­fight­ers was likely to be erased Thurs­day.

“We’re talk­ing winds that can sur­face that can be 80 miles an hour,” Pim­lott said. “These will be winds that there will be no abil­ity to fight fires.”

Such winds can in­stantly turn a tiny fire into a large one, or carry em­bers that spark new fires kilo­me­tres away.

Mil­lions of cell­phones buzzed loudly Tues­day night from San Diego to Santa Bar­bara with a sound that usu­ally means an Am­ber Alert, but this time meant a rare weather warn­ing for strong winds mak­ing ex­treme fire dan­ger.

Of­fi­cials hope the elec­tronic push will keep the whole re­gion alert and keep the death toll from the week’s fires at zero.

Melissa Rosen­zweig, 47, was briefly back home Tues­day af­ter evac­u­at­ing from her Ven­tura house, which has been spared so far while most on her street had burned in the largest and most de­struc­tive of the re­gion’s fires. She and her hus­band were about to evac­u­ate again, hop­ing they will get lucky twice as the new winds ar­rive.

“Heck yeah I’m still wor­ried,” Rosen­zweig said.

“We’re very grate­ful but I know we’re not out of the woods.”

In what may have been an early sign of the 140-square-mile fire get­ting new life, sev­eral thou­sand new evac­u­a­tions were or­dered late Tues­day night in Ojai, a town of artists and re­sorts.

The blaze had been creep­ing there al­ready, but an in­crease in winds pushed it close enough for many more to flee.

The wilder winds could eas­ily send make new fires ex­plode too, as one did Wed­nes­day in Los An­ge­les’ exclusive Bel-Air sec­tion, where a fire con­sumed mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar houses that give the rich and fa­mous sweep­ing views of Los An­ge­les.

Lit­tle flame was vis­i­ble by late Tues­day, but in the morn­ing fire ex­ploded on the steep slopes of Sepul­veda Pass, clos­ing a sec­tion of heav­ily trav­elled In­ter­state 405 and de­stroy­ing four homes.

Flames burned a wine stor­age shed at me­dia mogul Ru­pert Mur­doch’s 16-acre (6.5-hectare) Mor­aga Vine­yards es­tate and ap­peared to have dam­aged about 7 acres (2.8 hectares) of vines, a spokesper­son said.

JAE C. HONG, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A fire­fighter bat­tles a wild­fire in Ven­tura, Calif., Thurs­day. Winds were ex­pected to make fight­ing the fire al­most im­pos­si­ble.

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