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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The Skirball fire burning in Bel-Air destroyed at least four, and possibly six, houses on Casiano Road and Moraga Drive on Wednesday, officials said.
More than 350 firefighters, 52 engines and six fixed-wing aircraft are battling the blaze from the north, west and east. The crews will have relatively cool temperatures in the 50s and 60s, but also low humidity and winds stronger than 25 miles per hour.
“Our greatest threat is — and will always continue to be — the wind,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said.
Black smoke began billowing from the fire area just after 9 a.m., apparently burning in a canyon area thick with 50 to 60 feet of brush, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. The area did not burn in the 1961 Bel-Air fires, meaning the brush there had built for many decades.
The city will declare a local state of emergency Wednesday morning, Garcetti said.
“These are days that break your heart,” Garcetti said. “These are also days that show the resilience of our city.”
Officials urged residents in mandatory evacuation areas to leave, assuring them that firefighters would protect all the homes they could.
“This is no time to be a hero,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
“We are losing some property and that is tragic, but the most important thing is people’s lives,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, whose district includes the area on fire.
Other fires in Southern California have stretched resources thin. The Los Angeles Fire Department has scaled back the number of employees and engines responding to 911 calls in other areas of the city, Terrazas said.
Other agencies are loaning bulldozers to dig fire lines, because the city’s machines are in use at the Creek fire, Garcetti said, and the county’s are being used at the Rye fire in Santa Clarita.