Hundreds of elite thoroughbred race horses sprinted away from flames Thursday as one of California’s major wildfires tore through a training center in San Diego County.
Not all made it.
There was no official count of how many animals were killed in the hazy confusion as both horses and humans evacuated, but trainers at San Luis Rey Downs estimated that at least a dozen had died, possibly far more.
As firefighters made progress on the Creek fire, officials announced most residents will be allowed to return to their homes as of 4 p.m. Thursday.
The Riverwood, Ebey Canyon and Doane Canyon areas are open to residents only, as is the Shadow Hills area north of Sunland Boulevard, the Los Angeles Fire Department posted on Twitter. Limekiln Canyon remains closed from Pacoima Canyon Road to Maclay Street.
Skirball fire evacuees — including those who live on Roscomare Road, Bel Terrace, all roads between Sunset Boulevard and Bellagio Road, and North Casiano Road from Mulholland Drive — can return home at 8 p.m. Thursday.
A fire burns near Lake Casitas. Lots of helicopters fly overhead, dipping into the lake for water. Lots of power lines that they have to watch for. Luckily, there isn’t much wind in this area. #ThomasFirepic.twitter.com/JdwJwm7VyA
On Thursday afternoon, helicopters hauling water dipped into Lake Casitas, west of California 33, and headed to a fire near the Ojai Valley. Fires dotted the hillsides along California 150. A mix of firefighters in trucks and helicopters worked to extinguish those fires, steering them away from the towns of Casitas Springs and Oak View.
Through Wednesday night and into Thursday, the Thomas fire spread significantly around Ojai and into the Los Padres National Forest. Officials have feared the fire could last for weeks if the area doesn't see any rain and if high winds continue.
The Lilac fire, which began Thursday afternoon near the 15 Freeway and Highway 76, was threatening 1,000 structures and had grown to 500 acres by 1 p.m., according to Cal Fire San Diego.
#LilacFire [update] The fire is growing at a dangerous rate of spread with 1,000 structures threatened. Five structures have been destroyed & an unknown amount have been damaged. Hwy 76 is closed in both directions. pic.twitter.com/Es94riT5zz
Southern California may get the Santa Ana winds every year, but — according to recorded history — they’ve never been like this.
With relative humidities in the single digits along the coastal mountains, where a series of fires has scorched thousands of acres and destroyed more than 100 homes, the air is the driest it’s been here in recorded history, said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.
“The [relative] humidities right now along the coast are much drier than what you’d normally see in the interior desert in the summertime,” Swain said. “Once you get down to 1% or 2%, you’re down almost as low as is physically possible.”
Even as fiery tornadoes of flames began climbing the slopes of the remote box canyon he calls home Thursday morning, Jayson Kaufman figured he still had plenty of time to pack his valuables and head down mountain to Ojai.
To the chagrin of Ventura County sheriff’s deputies who issued a mandatory evacuation order the previous night, Kaufman was among 15 to 20 canyon dwellers who refused to leave their rustic cabins and geodesic domes tucked in dry brush.
“We’re monitoring the situation — and the clarity of the air — closely,” he said, eyeballing clouds of smoke filling the skies on both ends of the densely forested canyon. “This morning, the sky was super clear until about 10 a.m. Now, we’re playing it by ear.”
Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said if the wind continues, and rain doesn’t touch the region, the Thomas fire could continue for a few more weeks.
“Until the wind stops blowing, there’s really not a lot we can do as far as controlling the perimeter, so our opportunities are hopefully going to come in tomorrow as the wind lets up,” Lorenzen said. Then, he said, the firefighters can place line around the blaze and contain part of it, but “this is a fight we’re going to be fighting probably for a couple of weeks.”
While there was once such a thing as a predictable wildfire season, Lorenzen said that season now seems to last all year — a shift, he said, potentially triggered by six years of drought and climate change.