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

Firefighters allow some Bel-Air residents to return and collect their belongings

Fire burning in the hills of Bel-Air forced mandatory evacuations in an area of multimillion-dollar homes. (KTLA-TV)
Fire burning in the hills of Bel-Air forced mandatory evacuations in an area of multimillion-dollar homes. (KTLA-TV)

By early afternoon, the fires had subsided but firefighters continued to guard the multimillion dollar homes in Bel-Air from the blazes that earlier in the morning came within feet of the properties.

The firetrucks spread out on Moraga Drive; one fire truck guarded every three houses, said Don Batiste, an engineer with the Los Angeles Fire Department. Firefighters said they weren’t sure how the Skirball fire had spread to Morago Drive.

There are about 36 homes in the gated community. All are surrounded by hills that were engulfed in flames Wednesday morning. Neighbors said well-known public figures and celebrities such as Jerry West and Rupert Murdoch live on the street. Magic Johnson once owned a house on the street, neighbors said.

Residents in the community were woken up at 5 a.m. Wednesday by police demanding they evacuate. “Everyone was great about evacuating. They didn’t get in the way,” said Captain John Ziola with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. “They were emotional, though.”

Ziola said he is proud of the firefighters. He pointed to the hills above and said that at least four homes were destroyed by the fire. Ziola said he is worried that the winds will pick up again Wednesday night.

By 2 p.m., some residents were allowed back in to grab a few belongings. Terri Greenbaum, who lives in a two-story gray home on the 1200 block of Moraga Drive, stood on her front lawn next to her doormat, which had burned. “That’s how close the flames got,” she said, pointing to it.

Greenbaum said she and her husband were woken up by the police knocking on their doors telling them to leave. She stuck her head outside the house and saw the flames for herself. “My husband and I threw our clothes and computers into the car and left,” she said. There was no damage to the house itself, her home for 15 years. “I was a little worried when I saw the firetruck outside when I was coming up,” she said. “But my home is fine for now.” 

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