Julio Varela stood at the base of La Conchita Road and breathed a sigh of relief. While the abandoned structure just to the left of his home burned down, his house was safe.
Varela, 67, was at dinner with friends Wednesday night when he heard about the fire nearing La Conchita. All five of the friends he was with had lost their homes in Ventura.
Around 9 p.m., he made his way back to the neighborhood where he’s lived for 35 years. The police arrived shortly after and urged everyone to evacuate. But Varela stayed. He snuck into his brown house, grabbed a hose and started to water the balcony and roof, and douse any embers that flared up.
The 80-mile-per-hour winds expected in Los Angeles late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning did not materialize, giving firefighters in Bel-Air a minor reprieve as they continued to knock down flames threatening homes in one of the region’s wealthiest enclaves.
Winds reached speeds of 40 mph overnight, but the steep canyons east of the 405 Freeway worked in firefighters’ favor, sheltering the fire from the strongest gusts and preventing embers from sparking new spot fires, said Los Angeles Fire Department Assistant Chief Armando Hogan.
The Skirball fire burning just east of the 405 Freeway remained 5% contained Thursday morning and had burned 475 acres, fire officials said.
Smoke from four wildfires raging across Southern California has resulted in unhealthy air quality across the San Fernando Valley, along with coastal areas and surrounding portions of Los Angeles County.
All people in those areas should avoid unnecessary outdoor exposure and limit all physical exertion, said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county's interim health officer.
“It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask all individuals to be aware of their immediate environment and take actions to safeguard their health,” Gunzenhauser said.