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 gain toehold, contain 20% of Skirball fire by Thursday afternoon

A helicopter scouts for hot spots from the Skirball fire in Bel-Air. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
A helicopter scouts for hot spots from the Skirball fire in Bel-Air. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Gentler-than-expected winds Thursday morning gave firefighters a toehold against the wildfire burning in Bel-Air, which was 20% contained by 11 a.m.

The 475-acre Skirball fire has not grown in nearly a day, a testament to the overnight assault that crews launched on the western and northern edges of the fire, closest to the 405 Freeway and multimillion-dollar homes, officials said.

Despite the progress, the fight was far from over, officials said. Thursday afternoon, firefighters will face bone-dry air with a relative humidity of 4%, and 33 mph winds out of the northeast that could push the fire toward the 405.

The 20% containment figure means firefighters have cleared brush to make a fire break, or hauled in hoses, to stop the blaze from advancing along about one-fifth of the fire’s perimeter. 

“We’re not done,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas. “We’re in the middle of this event.” 

One firefighter was injured early Wednesday and is receiving treatment for burns on his neck, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

The LAFD plans to test a new technology Thursday: a drone that can use thermal imaging to seek out hot spots, a high-tech way of directing crews to areas that need attention. The drone also will assess property damage, Terrazas said. Officials used drones while battling fires in Northern California in October.

The Skirball fire has destroyed four houses on Casiano Road, Moraga Drive and Linda Flora Drive, and damaged a dozen others.

The wildfires raging across Southern California, stoked by winds as strong as 80 mph, have left fire departments stretched thin. Nearly 1,000 local agencies have sent firefighters to help battle the fires across Southern California, said Cal Fire’s Ken Pimlott. 

State officials also have asked strike teams from Montana, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico and Nevada to come to California, said Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

“Just two months ago, the city of Los Angeles had their firefighters up in Northern California fighting fires,” Ghilarducci said. “Now we’ve got Northern California firefighters here on this incident. Neighbor helping neighbor, everybody is supporting each other.”

Officials urged residents to be patient and told those who have lingered behind to leave their homes and trust firefighters to protect them. 

L.A. Councilman Paul Koretz, whose district includes Bel-Air, scolded construction companies who sent their workers into the evacuation zone Thursday.

“If you are a developer in the fire zone in Bel-Air, get the hell out and don’t come back until the evacuation is over,” Koretz said. He told The Times he was concerned that the trucks and equipment could block firetruck access and potentially spark new fires.

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