LOCAL CALIFORNIA

Multiple fires are raging in Southern California. A series of Santa Ana wind-driven wildfires have destroyed hundreds of structures, forced thousands to flee and smothered the region with smoke in what officials predicted would be a pitched battle for days.

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Bel-Air fire

Bel-Air firefighters faced 40-mph winds overnight

ptain Bob Williams, left, and firefighter Bobby D'Amico look for hot spots from the Skirball fire Thursday morning. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
ptain Bob Williams, left, and firefighter Bobby D'Amico look for hot spots from the Skirball fire Thursday morning. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The 80-mile-per-hour winds expected in Los Angeles late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning did not materialize, giving firefighters in Bel-Air a minor reprieve as they continued to knock down flames threatening homes in one of the region’s wealthiest enclaves.

Winds reached speeds of 40 mph overnight, but the steep canyons east of the 405 Freeway worked in firefighters’ favor, sheltering the fire from the strongest gusts and preventing embers from sparking new spot fires, said Los Angeles Fire Department Assistant Chief Armando Hogan.

The Skirball fire burning just east of the 405 Freeway remained 5% contained Thursday morning and had burned 475 acres, fire officials said. 

A portion of a fire perimeter is considered contained when firefighters have cleared a broad area to form a fire break, or hauled in hose lines that will stop the blaze from advancing. 

The low containment number does not mean the blaze is burning out of control, Hogan said. Many of the tallest flames have been knocked down. Some active fires are still burning, Hogan said, “but nothing that is raging and roaring.” 

Some deep canyons have decades of heavy brush growth that is highly flammable and is burning off, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman David Ortiz said. Those areas are smoldering with embers that firefighters call “cat eyes,” because they glint in the darkness with a certain feline quality. 

Some canyons have 70-degree inclines, too steep to accommodate firefighters at all. Fire crews are dropping water on those areas with one airplane, with another on the way, LAFD spokesman Peter Sanders said.

If the firefight goes well Thursday, with winds of 20 to 25 mph, officials may consider allowing some evacuated residents to temporarily return home to pick up clothes and medication, Hogan said.

“What we don’t want to do is pull the trigger prematurely,” Hogan said.

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