HIGH FIRE DANGER
Wildfires from Burbank to San Luis Obispo County and the Inland Empire prompt evacuations. Some homes have been lost.
A helicopter drops water at the scene of a brush fire in Burbank, one of several wildfires being fought Wednesday in Southern California.
Firefighters on Wednesday increased containment around five Southern California wildfires that have gutted homes and cars and forced some residents to flee, according to state and federal officials.
The blazes started at the tail end of a brutal statewide heat wave that dried out valley grasses and brush-covered hillsides. Officials say California’s wettest winter in more than a decade created a fresh crop of fuel spread across the state that has since dried out in the spring and summer heat.
Though temperatures are expected to dip Friday, warm, dry breezes are expected to return over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.
In response, the Angeles National Forest expects to raise the fire danger level from high to very high effective Friday, park officials announced.
“Live-fuel moisture levels in the shrubs and brush have decreased, grasses at lower elevations have cured, and fire activity has increased recently around the forest,” officials said.
In the meantime, here’s where the five fires in Southern California stood on Wednesday:
The largest of them all, the fire was sparked Monday by a car crash along Highway 79 in the San Jacinto Mountains and has been fueled by high temperatures, low humidity and wind gusts of up to 35 mph that have pushed it east toward Banning.
Riverside County authorities said evacuation warnings remain in place for communities between Highland Home Road and Highway 243 — an area that includes Poppet Flats and Silent Valley.
A day earlier, those in voluntary evacuation areas said things appeared much less dire than they did Monday evening, when ash rained down and smoke and flames rose on the horizon.
“Last night it was iffy,” Jeanie Crist, a 64-year-old resident of Silent Valley Club, told The Times on Tuesday.
The mood had returned to normal the next day, however, as campers went about their normal summer routines and lounged among oak trees, even as fire officials roamed the grounds and kept a watchful eye on matters.
MART FIRE San Bernardino County 902 acres 15% contained
On Tuesday night, another blaze had popped up less than 30 miles to the north of the Manzanita fire and east of San Bernardino.
The Mart fire raced up a steep canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains about 3:15 p.m., and its flames came within feet of igniting a suburban hillside neighborhood, triggering evacuations. Firefighters managed to stop its advance with air power and ground crews.
The fire started near a WalMart at Highland Avenue and Highway 330, a popular thoroughfare that leads to Big Bear. The fire has spread to more than 900 acres in the hills north of Highland, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
About 560 firefighters and emergency personnel were assigned to the blaze. The cause is under investigation.
HILL FIRE San Luis Obispo County 1,598 acres 65% contained
In San Luis Obispo County, the Hill fire started Monday and was burning along eastern foothills of a coastal mountain range near Santa Margarita among secluded homes and tall, dry grass and vegetation.
According to TMZ, “Big Bang Theory” actor Johnny Galecki’s ranch was destroyed in the blaze.
In a statement to the website, Galecki said: “My heart goes out to all in the area who are also experiencing loss from this vicious fire, the threat of which we live with constantly, which may seem crazy to some but we do so because living in our beautiful, rural area makes it worthwhile. It’s never the structures that create a community — it’s the people. And if the people of Santa Margarita have taught me anything it’s that, once the smoke has cleared, literally and figuratively, it’s a time to reach out and rebuild.
“We’ve done it before, and will need to do it together again, and it will make our community even closer and stronger. Endless thanks to Cal Fire and the Sheriff ’s Office. I know you guys are fighting the good fight to keep us safe. So very relieved no one has been hurt.”
PLACERITA FIRE Los Angeles County 780 acres 95% contained
The Placerita fire started Sunday afternoon when a motorist crashed into a tree, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The blaze was expected to be fully contained by the end of Wednesday, officials said.
In its first hours over the weekend, the fire had knocked out power and triggered mandatory evacuations for dozens of residents after it jumped a freeway and sent up a towering plume of gray smoke visible for miles.
Laura Amara, a 48-year-old secretary, was hosting a baby shower at her house on Running Horse Road when the fire began.
“It started with my girlfriend having me come to the backyard where she saw a little puff of flames come up, and I saw this bigger ball of fire all of a sudden kind of explode,” she told a reporter Monday.
Amara went back and told her 40 guests the news. “Um, we’re all leaving,” she said.
“I was worried about my house, but I’ve been through this many times,” she said. “You live in Southern California, you live in dry conditions; just like earthquakes, you get fire too. But when it burns, I want everyone out of the house and to be safe, so that’s my concern. Especially with a very pregnant daughter, it was just like, ‘Go go go,’ and our blood pressures were skyrocketing.”
At Golden Oak Ranch, an 890-acre filming location constructed by Disney and ABC Studios, the fire burned a structure that had been used as a prop house, said L.A. County Sheriff ’s Department spokesman Christopher Craft.
U.S. Forest Service firefighters stopped the blaze from burning other structures in the faux business district and suburban street used for filming movies and television shows.
BURBANK FIRE Verdugo Mountains 10 acres 80% contained
The Burbank fire started Wednesday afternoon; a cause has not been determined.
It was expected to be fully contained by the end of Wednesday, officials said.
The fast-moving fire prompted mandatory evacuations as it burned dangerously close to homes in the Verdugo Mountains, according to the Burbank Fire Department. The fire was reported near the 1000 block of Hamline Place just before 3 p.m., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department, which was assisting Burbank fire crews.
Burbank police ordered evacuations of all homes on Viewcrest Drive and Howard Court. Irving Drive was closed east of Kenneth Road, and Joaquin Drive was closed at Haven Way.
Speaking to NBC4 News, Burbank Police Sgt. Derek Green said officers were going door-to-door asking people to evacuate. Authorities initially called for voluntary evacuations and quickly changed those to mandatory orders. “It was a fast-moving fire,” he said. “This is a very dry area.”
Authorities were concerned because houses “butt right up to the hillside,” he said.
Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service list seven other active fires burning in the state from San Diego County to Fresno County, the two largest of which were nearly contained Wednesday at about 1,500 acres apiece.
About 2,300 wildfires on state and federal land have burned 25,000 acres so far in 2017, according to government statistics.
email@example.com Times staff writers Hailey Branson-Potts, Javier Panzar, Sonaiya Kelley and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.
A CREW cuts a fire line through the foothills above Hamline Place in Burbank. The fast-moving, 10-acre fire burned dangerously close to homes Wednesday and prompted mandatory evacuations. But fire officials expected it would be fully contained by day’s end.