Strong “Santa Ana” winds were making the job of firefighters more difficult as they struggled to contain a fierce outbreak of wildfires near Los Angeles that has triggered evacuation orders for 200,000 people and destroyed nearly 200 homes.
The 50-mph winds were not only helping spread the flames, but they also grounded aircraft used to dump water on the fires. Authorities said they hoped to get the planes back in the air by Wednesday.
The Thomas Fire, the largest, “moved west from Ventura through some inland mountains, but early Tuesday evening the flames moved south, even jumping Highway 101 and almost making it to the ocean. The Coast Highway gave firefighters a wide break to protect homes on the ocean side of the freeway from the flames,” member station KCLU’s Lance Orozco reports.
“The flames kicked up 50 feet in the air,” he writes.
The first of the fires erupted suddenly on Monday as people slept and spread quickly in and around the cities of Santa Paula and Ventura in Ventura County.
In addition to 50,000 acres burning in Ventura, more than 15,000 acres have been engulfed in Los Angeles county, with smaller active fires also in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, according to authorities.
“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”
The AP spoke to Lisa Kermode as she and her children returned Tuesday to their home — burned to the ground along with the Christmas tree and gifts — after evacuating on Monday.
“We got knots in our stomach coming back up here,” Kermode told the AP. “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.”
As member station KPCC reports, even before the latest fires this week, 2017 ranked as the deadliest year on record for wildfires in California.
In October, massive wildfires killed 42 people in the wine country of Sonoma and Napa, in Northern California.