Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­ni­ties un­der siege from wind-driven fires

Sun.Star Pampanga - - WORLD! -

VEN­TURA, Calif. — Wind-driven fires tore through Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­ni­ties Tues­day for the sec­ond time in two months, leav­ing hun­dreds of homes feared lost and up­root­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple.

The most dam­ag­ing fire was in Ven­tura County north­west of Los An­ge­les, where 150 struc­tures were con­firmed de­stroyed. But a fire of­fi­cial said he sus­pected “hun­dreds more” would be lost when flames died down enough to make a thor­ough as­sess­ment .

In the San Gabriel Moun­tains foothills of Los An­ge­les about 45 miles (72 kilo­me­ters) away from the city, 30 struc­tures burned. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the gusty winds ex­pected to last most of the week had cre­ated a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion and he urged 150,000 peo­ple un­der manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders to leave their homes be­fore it’s too l at e.

“We have lost struc­tures, we have not lost lives,” he said. “Do not wait. Leave your homes.”

The fires in Ven­tura County lit up hill­sides and spread rapidly Mon­day evening from ru­ral rolling hills to dense sub­di­vi­sions. Res­i­dents, al­ready warned of ex­treme fire dan­ger, were sent au­to­mated phone alerts and evac­u­a­tions ap­peared to pro­ceed smoot hl y.

As the sun rose Tues­day, the first of at least three ad­di­tional South­ern Cal­i­for­nia fires broke out, fu­eled by stiff winds that pre­vented fire­fight­ing air­craft most of the day from dump­ing water to pro­tect homes or at­tack the march of flames.

In ad­di­tion to prompt­ing hasty evac­u­a­tions, the fires shut down two free­ways for hours and sent heavy, acrid smoke bil­low­ing over the Los An­ge­les area, cre­at­ing a health hazard for mil­lions.

There were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of any deaths. Two peo­ple were crit­i­cally in­jured in a small San Bernardino County fire, but no other se­ri­ous in­juries were re­ported. The fires were un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and no causes had been found.

The Ven­tura wild­fire ex­ploded to nearly 80 square miles (207 square kilo­me­ters) in a mat­ter of hours. It was fanned by dry Santa Ana winds clocked at well over 60 mph (96 kph) and spit em­bers up to a half-mile (0.8 kilo­me­ters) ahead of fire lines.

Lisa Ker­mode ig­nored the first evac­u­a­tion alert that buzzed on her phone when it said the fire was 15 miles (24 kilo­me­ters) away from her home. But the flames were nearly on top of her an hour later when she rounded up her three chil­dren, still in their pa­ja­mas, and told them to grab some jeans so they could leave.

They re­turned home Tues­day 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.”

The fires came just eight weeks af­ter the dead­li­est and most de­struc­tive series of wild­fires in state his­tory burned through North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and its fa­bled wine coun­try and killed 44 peo­ple dead and de­stroyed 8,900 homes and other build­ings.

Fires are not typ­i­cal in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia this time of year but can break out when dry veg­e­ta­tion and too lit­tle rain com­bine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any mea­sur­able rain has fallen in the re­gion over the past six months.

Like the deadly Oc­to­ber fires in Napa and Sonoma coun­ties, the new blazes were in ar­eas more sub­ur­ban than ru­ral.

Fires in those set­tings are likely to be­come more fre­quent as cli­mate change makes fire sea­son a year-round threat and will put greater pres­sure on lo­cal bud­gets, said Char Miller, a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal anal­y­sis at Pomona Col­lege who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about wildf i r es.

A Los An­ge­les County fire­fighter puts water a burn­ing house in a wild­fire in the Lake View Ter­race area of Los An­ge­les Tues­day, Dec. 5, 2017. Fe­ro­cious winds in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia have whipped up ex­plo­sive wild­fires, burn­ing a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal and scores of other struc­tures. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple have been or­dered evac­u­ated. (AP Photo/Chris Carl­son)

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