Wind-accelerated wildfires continue to consume Southern California
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A fresh spate of Southern California wildfires roared to life on Thursday, destroying homes and forcing evacuations, as the region faced a second day of explosively fierce Santa Ana winds that have fanned flames, displacing thousands of residents.
The most destructive among several new wind-driven blazes in the region erupted hours before dawn on the rugged slopes of the San Bernardino National Forest above the city of San Bernardino, roaring downhill into the north end of town.
The so-called Hillside fire quickly devoured more than 200 acres (80 hectares) of dry scrub and destroyed or damaged at least six homes before firefighters managed to keep the flames from advancing farther, fire officials said.
As of early afternoon, crews had managed to carve containment lines around 50% of the fire's perimeter. No injuries were reported, but evacuation orders remained in effect for nearly 500 homes, displacing about 1,300 residents.
The cause of the blaze is still under investigation. The San Bernardino County Fire Department said on Twitter that no power lines were located where it had originated.
The latest recurrence of Santa Ana winds, howling into the region through mountain passes from the desert, coincided with extremely low relative humidity and a prolonged lack of rainfall that has left vegetation tinder-dry across the region.
Those conditions prompted the National Weather Service to create a new alert level, issuing an "extreme red-flag warning" for fire danger in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Winds were beginning to subside on Thursday, though red-flag warnings were extended through Friday evening in mountain and foothill areas deemed especially susceptible to high gusts.
The latest Santa Anas cap a flurry of extreme windstorms across California during the past month, but once they dissipate no more were forecast for at least the next week, Weather Service meteorologist Kristen Stewart said.
The easing winds helped firefighters make short work of numerous blazes that sprung up early Thursday, and to consolidate gains against a pair of major fires ignited earlier in the week.
A fire that erupted early on Monday near the famed Getty Center art museum in west Los Angeles, threatening thousands of homes in some of the city's wealthiest neighbourhoods, was largely suppressed by Thursday, with containment listed at 40%.
Residents were allowed to return to most of the 10,000 homes that had been ordered evacuated.
The museum emerged unscathed, but about a dozen dwellings were lost in the 745-acre Getty fire and two firefighters were injured.
Investigators say the Getty fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch blown into power lines by high winds.
Hollywood production designer Marek Dobrowolski, returning to his fire-scarred neighbourhood after three days, found his home intact but said the ordeal was nonetheless "traumatizing."
He added that utilities should be burying more of their power lines underground to prevent such calamities.
"You should not have a fire that starts with a branch that falls into wires, and then 12 houses are burned down and 17,000 people have to evacuate," said Dobrowolski.
About 30 miles (48 km) to the northwest, a fire that raged to the edge of the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Ventura County's Simi Valley on Wednesday was 10% contained on Thursday after threatRead More – Source