Tech: Firefighters struggle to contain a massive wildfire west of Los Angeles as several blazes consume parts of Southern California


Flames consume vehicles as a wildfire rages in Ventura, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017.

Several wildfires broke out in the Los Angeles area on Monday and Tuesday — and they’re showing no signs of stopping.

  • Multiple wildfires continue to race through parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties in Southern California.
  • The three largest blazes — known as the Thomas Fire, the Creek Fire, and the Rye Fire — are burning around Ventura, Sylmar, and Santa Clarita, scorching thousands of acres and showing no signs of stopping.
  • Many areas are under mandatory evacuation orders, affecting nearly 200,000 people.

Southern California firefighters are battling several out-of-control wildfires burning through parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, including a blaze in a wealthy neighborhood on the western edge of LA.

Here are the numbers as of Thursday morning, according to Los Angeles County officials and Cal Fire, a state fire-safety agency:

  • Thomas Fire in Ventura County: 115,000 acres, 5% containment.
  • Creek Fire in Sylmar: 15,300 acres, 20% containment, at least 30 structures damaged or destroyed, at least 2,500 homes threatened.
  • Rye Fire in Santa Clarita: 7,000 acres, 25% containment.
  • Skirball Fire in Bel Air: 475 acres, 30% containment.

The first and largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, started Monday night in Ventura County. As of Thursday night, 115,000 acres were burning, and it had destroyed at least 439 structures out of at least 15,000 threatened. Local fire authorities warn that those numbers could rise dramatically as winds pick up throughout the day.

Thursday saw powerful winds increase throughout the region, forcing more evacuations and making it nearly impossible to contain the fires. The National Weather Service is forecasting wind gusts of up to 60 mph in wind-prone areas of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

“There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds,” Ken Pimlott, California's fire chief, told the Los Angeles Times. “At the end of the day, we need everyone in the public to listen and pay attention. This is not 'watch the news and go about your day.' This is 'pay attention minute-by-minute … keep your head on a swivel.'”

Officials said Thursday's forecast was a “recipe for explosive fire growth” and a fire danger of 296 on the brush burning index — a record, according to CNN. The figure is calculated based on moisture levels, wind, humidity, and a range of other factors. A rating above 162 is considered the most extreme risk.

The flames in Ventura County and have reached the Pacific Ocean. Mandatory evacuation orders affect nearly 200,000 people, and authorities on Wednesday closed the 405 Freeway, causing gridlock throughout the region.

Early Thursday, authorities shut down the 101 Freeway between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties but reopened the section around 8 a.m. PT. Several cities in the Ojai Valley are now under mandatory evacuation orders. A women's body was found near a vehicle accident in a burned area in Ojai, though officials have not yet determined the cause of death according to The LA Times.

Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, freeing up state funds to help tackle the wildfires. About 1,700 firefighters were battling the blaze as of Thursday morning.

“This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we'll continue to tackle it with all we've got,” Brown said. “It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so.”

Mark Lorenzen, the Ventura County fire chief, told reporters that the fires' growth had been “absolutely exponential.”

“These are days that break your heart,” Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles' mayor, told reporters. “These are also days that show the resilience of our city.”

Weather conditions have aligned to make the LA area somewhat of a tinderbox. Winds of up to 80 mph were recorded on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. The region is under a “red flag” advisory because of Santa Ana winds expected to blow through Sunday, the NWS said.

Such an environment makes containment much more difficult for firefighters. Cal Fire said on Wednesday that because of the forecasted high winds, there would be “no ability to fight” the spread of the fires.

“All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people, and protect structures,” Lorenzen said.

The NWS warned on Monday, hours before the blazes started, that there would “be the potential for very rapid spread of wildfire” and “extreme fire behavior.” Those warnings were extended several times this week, and will now be in effect through Sunday.

As the Ventura fire raged on Tuesday, another one near the Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar broke out and has grown to 15,300 acres across Sylmar, Lake View Terrace, and Shadow Hills. Dozens of structures have burned, and there was 20% containment as of Thursday night, according to local fire officials.

Authorities said a portion of the 210 Freeway would be closed through at least Thursday morning, and mandatory evacuations remain in effect for areas in the path of the flames on both sides of the freeway, according to KPCC, a local NPR affiliate.

The Los Angeles Unified School District said 265 of its 1,165 schools would be closed on Thursday and Friday.

The Rye Fire, which broke out near Santa Clarita late Tuesday morning, has burned 7,000 acres and was 25% contained as of Thursday night. More than 500 firefighters were on the scene.

The Skirball Fire started early Wednesday near the Bel Air section of Los Angeles and has grown to 475 acres with 30% containment by Thursday night, with 200 firefighters battling the blaze. It prompted the closure of the busy 405 Freeway and threatened the Getty Center art museum.

“You can only imagine the impact this weather is having on the flaming front,” David Richardson, the Los Angeles County deputy fire chief, told the LA Times. “This wind is what's being dealt with at this point in time. It makes things very … difficult because we're chasing the fire — we're chasing the fire trying to get ahead of it, trying to get in front to provide structure defense.”

Mark Lorenzen, the Ventura County Fire Chief, told The LA Times on Thursday that if rains don't fall on the region the Thomas Fire could continue burning for weeks.

“My hope is that within a week, the issues around the population areas are going to be gone, but then it’s still going to be up in the forest in the wilderness areas, and it's a challenge,” Lorenzen said. “It's hard to get. The size and the scope of this thing is going to be enormous.”

California has been ravaged by wildfires in recent months. In October, a series of fires destroyed communities in Northern California's Napa and Sonoma counties in what is considered the deadliest wildfire in the state's history. Experts said at the time that it would take years for the state to recover.

Here's a map of the location of the current fires:

And here's a map showing all of the areas under a red-flag warning, where there is the highest risk of fire: