Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Daily Updates

Ritzy Bel-Air torched by latest wind-whipped Southern California wildfire

Blaze joins siege that has destroyed hundreds of homes, disrupted lives

  • APTOPIX-California-Wildfires-28

    A firefighter mops up at a home consumed by a wildfire Wednesday in the ultra-rich Bel-Air district of Los Angeles. Firefighters battled up to four other wind-whipped destructive blazes across Southern California.

    Associated Press

  • California-Wildfires-4-38

    Flames from the Thomas fire burn above a truck Wednesday on Highway 101 north of Ventura, Calif.

    Associated Press

  • California-Wildfires-6-41

    With the west Los Angeles skyline in the background, sprinklers wet down the roof of a home Wednesday after a wildfire swept through the exclusive Bel-Air district of Los Angeles.

    Associated Press

  • California-Wildfires-1-42

    Homes stand along the beach as the sun is visible through thick smoke from a wildfire Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. A dramatic new wildfire erupted in Los Angeles early Wednesday as firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    Jae C. Hong

  • California-Wildfires-2-40

    Crystal Shore look over the wildfire damaged neighbors home along Via San Anselmo in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

    Chris Carlson

  • California-Wildfires-3-46

    Maurice Kaboud makes a phone call after a wildfire threatened his home in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. When firefighters told Kaboud to evacuate, he decided to stay and protect his home. The 59-year-old stood in the backyard of his multimillion- dollar home as the Skirball fire raged nearby. "God willing, this will slow down so the firefighters can do their job," Kaboud said. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    Reed Saxon

  • California-Wildfires-5-45

    File - In this Nov. 8, 1961 file photo, Zsa Zsa Gabor, aided by a friend, Robert Straile, digs through the ashes of her $275,000 Bel-Air home in Los Angeles. Nearly 500 homes burned in the area during the infamous Bel Air Fire of 1961. Celebrities, including Burt Lancaster and Zsa Zsa Gabor, lost homes in the fire. (AP Photo/Dick Strobel, File)

    Dick Strobel

  • California-Wildfires-7-38

    A firefighter mops up at a home consumed by a wildfire in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. A dangerous new wildfire erupted in the tony Bel Air area of Los Angeles early Wednesday as firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    Jae C. Hong

  • California-Wildfires-8-31

    Flames sweep up a steep canyon wall, threatening homes on a ridge line as the Skirball wildfire swept through the Bel Air district of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    Reed Saxon

  • California-Wildfires-Getty-Center-9

    The Getty Center lies shrouded in smoke as firefighters keep watch on a nearby canyon from the terraces of homes in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles after the Skirball wildfire swept through Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. A destructive wildfire that erupted early Wednesday burned not far from The Getty Center, the $1 billion home to the J. Paul Getty Museum and related organizations that overlooks Los Angeles from a perch on the southern slope of the Santa Monica Mountains. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    Reed Saxon

  • California-Wildfires-10-24

    Flames from the Thomas fire burn above traffic on Highway 101 north of Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

    Noah Berger

  • California-Wildfires-11-21

    Neighbors walk past a home destroyed by wildfire along Via San Anselmo in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

    Chris Carlson

  • California-Wildfires-12-12

    A multi million-dollar home is a smoldering ruin after a wildfire swept through the Bel Air district of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    Reed Saxon

  • California-Wildfires-13-17

    The remains of a wildfire destroyed home smolders along Via San Anselmo in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

    Chris Carlson

  • California-Wildfires-14-14

    Los Angeles firefighters stand on a fire engine during sunrise as they battle flames on Casiano Road after the Skirball fire swept through the Bel Air district of Los Angeles, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    Reed Saxon

LOS ANGELES — A wildfire erupted in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel-Air section Wednesday as yet another part of Southern California found itself under siege from an outbreak of wind-whipped blazes that have consumed multimillion-dollar houses and tract homes alike.

Hundreds of homes across the Los Angeles metropolitan area and beyond were feared destroyed since Monday, but firefighters were only slowly managing to make their way into some of the hard-hit areas for an accurate count.

As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series, and cast a hazardous haze over the region. About 200,000 people were under evacuation orders. No deaths and only a few injuries were reported.

From the beachside city of Ventura, where rows of homes were leveled, to the rugged foothills north of Los Angeles, where more than two dozen horses died at a boarding stable, to Bel-Air, where the rich and famous have sweeping views of Los Angeles below, fierce Santa Ana winds sweeping in from the desert fanned the flames and fears.

“God willing, this will slow down so the firefighters can do their job,” said Maurice Kaboud, who ignored an evacuation order and stood in his backyard with a garden hose at the ready.

Air tankers that were grounded most of Tuesday because of high winds flew on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.

They were expected to gust as high as 80 mph overnight into today, possibly creating unprecedented fire danger. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which uses a color-coded wind index, issued a purple forecast, the most severe, for the first time ever, director Ken Pimlott said.

“They’re going to be extreme tomorrow,” Pimlott said. “We need to have everybody’s heads up — heads on a swivel — and pay very close attention.”

Before dawn Wednesday, flames exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily traveled Interstate 405 and destroying four homes in Bel-Air, where houses range from $2 million to tens of millions of dollars.

Firefighters hosed down a burning Tudor-style house as helicopters dropped water on hillsides to protect homes from the 150-acre blaze.

A Christmas tree saved from the flames was in the front yard of a burned-out house and a large painting was propped against a Range Rover.

Flames burned a wine storage shed at media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s 16-acre Moraga Vineyards estate and appeared to have damaged about 7 acres of vines, a spokeswoman said.

Bel-Air was the site of a catastrophic fire in 1961 that burned nearly 500 homes. Burt Lancaster and Zsa Zsa Gabor were among the celebrities who lost houses.

Across the wide Interstate 405 freeway from the fire, the Getty Center art complex was closed to protect its collection from smoke damage. Many schools across Los Angeles were closed because of poor air quality and classes were canceled at 265 schools today.

UCLA, at the edge of the Bel-Air evacuation zone, canceled afternoon classes and its evening basketball game. Students on campus wore dust and surgical masks.

By late afternoon, firefighters said they had controlled the fire’s advance.

Production of HBO’s “Westworld” and the CBS show “S.W.A.T.” was suspended because of the danger to cast and crew from two nearby fires.

In Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, the biggest and most destructive of the wildfires grew beyond 100 square miles and had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles inland a day earlier.

The fire destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds of homes have been lost.

Along a stretch of a hilly subdivision with stunning ocean and mountain views above Ventura, about 65 homes were razed. Fewer than 30 houses still stood in the same area, where embers glowed and trees smoldered. Homes farther up the road fared much better, with only two burned and 42 intact.

While winds were calmer Wednesday, the fire remained active around Ventura, spreading along the coast to the west and up into the mountains around the community of Ojai and into the agricultural city of Santa Paula.

“We’re basically in an urban firefight in Ventura, where if you can keep that house from burning, you might be able to slow the fire down,” said Tim Chavez, a fire behavior specialist at the blaze. “But that’s about it.”


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