Firefighters scrambled Wednesday afternoon to make progress against the Skirball fire burning in Bel-Air before the return of strong winds that could blow the fire across the 405 Freeway.
The blaze had grown to 475 acres and was 5% contained by 3 p.m. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropped retardant on the flames, while engine companies and hand crews worked to establish a line on the southern and western edges of the fire, near the 405.
“It’s critically important we get some containment” before the winds return, said Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Chuck Butler. “When the winds come up, they’re going to come out of the northeast, and they’re going to want to push the fire across the 405 Freeway.”
A red flag warning has been extended through Saturday across much of Southern California as firefighters struggled to get a handle on several wildfires raging across the region.
The warning, which indicates extreme fire danger due to gusty winds and low humidity, will be in effect through Saturday in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, where fires have scorched more than 80,000 acres and destroyed many homes.
Weather officials expect winds to pick up Wednesday night through Thursday, bringing “damaging” gusts of 50 to 70 mph that could cause trees and power lines to fall, and fire to spread rapidly. They also warned of isolated gusts of up to 80 mph in the mountains.
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.
Brent Clark, 58, stood on the roof of his Faria Beach home and began watering the wooden roof tiles. Past the railroad tracks and Highway 1, flames made their way down the hillsides as they burned through acres of chaparral.
Looking at the flames, Kay Clark, 58, turned her attention to a cypress tree near their home.
OJAI VALLEY SCHOOL: Girls dorm and science center leveled by the fire. Boys dorm has some fire damage and classroom doors were partly burnt. “The bones of the school are good,” CEO of school says.“The wind and embers — that’s what did us in.” pic.twitter.com/vBkttm8UQ9
Mike Hall-Mounsey, president and CEO of the Ojai Valley School, visited the hilltop upper school campus Wednesday to survey the damage wrought by the Thomas fire.
The school’s two-story dormitory for girls, which also has apartments for faculty, was destroyed. The science and technology building, erected about a decade ago with labs, lecture halls and classrooms, was leveled by the flames. Classroom doors were charred, and a part of the boys’ dormitory sustained damage.
“It came through here — gale-force winds with embers,” Hall-Mounsey said. “Winds burst doors open. Embers reached into attics and windows. The firefighters said they couldn’t save it all. They saved what they could.”
Over the thousands of miles traversed on a weeks-long road trip that started in Nova Scotia and passed through Simi Valley, Florida retiree Roy DeFilippis, 69, and his wife Yolanda, 66, had faced many challenges.
Their RV broke down in Kingman, Ariz., and again en route to Simi. Roy almost lost control of the motor home driving down a mountain.
Jacking up prices for essentials during a state of emergency is illegal, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra reminded Californians as wildfires continued to burn this week.
“As our brave firefighters are working to contain the blazes and as many Californians are being evacuated, it should not be open season on innocent victims,” Becerra said in a statement Wednesday. “Our state’s price gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on housing, gas, food and other essential supplies.”
California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10%, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. (There are some exceptions, including a significant increase in the price of labor or materials for the business.) Those who violate the law could face one year of imprisonment, and/or a fine up to $10,000.