Desperate, weary firefighters were in for another tough day of battling massive, home-destroying blazes in Los Angeles County, and things could get a lot worse with Santa Ana winds expected to gust up to 80 mph.
The Sepulveda Pass in the pricey Bel Air area, the hills around Sylmar and much of Santa Clarita were aflame as those three fires were barely contained.
And to the north, the devastating Thomas fire in Ventura County covered the most burned acreage.
The Skirball Fire in the Sepulveda Pass and Bel-Air was about 20 percent contained Thursday, with firefighters working to prevent the eastward spread of the blaze that has destroyed four homes, damaged 12 others and prompted thousands of evacuations.
Santa Ana winds continued to hamper the firefighting effort, with gusts expected to reach up to 80 mph at their peak. The winds died down overnight, and that helped keep the fire from spreading, Los Angeles Fire Department Assistant Chief Armando Hogan said.
“In a wind-driven event, wind is king,” Hogan said.
The blaze, which was reported at 4:52 a.m. Wednesday on the east side of the San Diego (405) Freeway near Mulholland Drive and prompted a morning rush hour closure of the freeway in the Sepulveda Pass, was estimated to have scorched at least 475 acres, Hogan said.
One firefighter suffered neck burns and was treated at a hospital, authorities said.
“What you’ll see today is more resources up there making an aggressive attack, doing everything we can to try to get our arms all the way around it … to work towards full containment,” Hogan said.
Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Blake Chow reminded Southlanders that red flag parking restrictions were still in place in the Hollywood and West Los Angeles areas, which are meant to keep streets open for firefighting equipment.
The fire has been kept to the east side of the freeway, and with winds easing, the forward movement of the fire was halted by Wednesday, but firefighters were in a desperate race to contain the blaze before a new round of strong wind gusts Thursday, said LAFD Deputy Chief Charles Butler.
About 700 homes and an apartment building were evacuated Wednesday. One elementary school was also evacuated, Butler said. All evacuations remained in place Thursday, covering a large area bounded by Mulholland Drive to the north, Sunset Boulevard to the south, the 405 to the west and Roscomare Road on the east. The exception to the evacuation order was the Bel-Air Crest housing development, which was not threatened, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
About 100 officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were sent to the neighborhood to handle evacuation orders, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said.
About a dozen evacuation centers have been established due to various fires burning in the city, including at Delano Recreation Center, 15100 Erwin St., Van Nuys; Balboa RC, 17015 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys; Sherman Oaks RC, 14201 Huston St., Sherman Oaks; and Westwood RC, 1350 Sepulveda Blvd., Westwood.
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said red flag conditions are expected to remain in effect through the rest of the week, with gusting Santa Ana winds presenting a continuing danger of rapidly spreading blazes.
Other agencies assisting include the U.S. Forest Service, Los Angeles County Fire Department and Cal Fire.
The Getty Center and the nearby Skirball Center, both on the west side of the freeway, did not appear to be threatened, though both remained closed Thursday. Getty officials said both museums will reopen Friday.
UCLA, Cal State Northridge, Los Angeles Valley College and Santa Monica College all canceled classes Thursday. UCLA officials said university medical facilities remained open.
All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and some on the Westside of Los Angeles — a total of 265 district schools and charter schools — were closed Thursday and will remain closed Friday due to the danger from the Skirball Fire and other fires burning in Los Angeles County, district officials said. A full list of closed schools is available at www.lausd.net.
The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District closed all of its schools Wednesday and Thursday. It was unclear if those campuses would reopen on Friday.
The fire was burning in the same general area as the devastating Bel-Air Fire of 1961. That blaze destroyed about 500 homes and led to various policy changes, including a prohibition on wood-shingle roofs and the strict requirement to remove brush from around properties.
–City News Service
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