Ventura, Dec 6: Wind-driven fires tore through California communities 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 late.
“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 smoothly.
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.