Fires burn across Southern California as dangerous winds continue through Friday
Dangerous fire conditions Monday fueled blazes in Pacific Palisades and San Bernardino, where at least three homes burned and evacuations were underway nearly into the night, as firefighters throughout the state braced for extreme fire conditions in coming days.
Much of California is under high fire risk with high temperatures, dry conditions and windy weather through Friday. Moderate to strong Santa Ana winds are predicted to bring an “extreme Red Flag Warning event” in parts of Southern California on Thursday and Friday, with the possibility that “very rapid fire spread and extreme fire behavior could threaten life and property,” according to National Weather Service reports.
Even in light winds on Monday, firefighters rushed to stop a blaze that quickly chewed through about 40 acres in Pacific Palisades, burning dangerously close to multimillion-dollar homes in a hillside neighborhood and sending a plume of smoke visible throughout the basin.
Firefighters responded about 10:40 a.m. to the fire, which erupted near 500 N. Palisades Drive. The fire, initially reported at one acre, grew to an estimated 30 acres in less than an hour before reaching about 40 acres by midday, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said.
About 200 homes in the area bordered by Charmel Lane, Bienveneda Avenue, Merivale Lane and Lachman Lane were under evacuation orders for most of the day, largely because of the amount of smoke and aircraft in the area, fire officials said.
“We will be expecting more fire weather as the week progresses, and because of that, we’re not going to leave any stone unturned in this community because our concern is to make sure that these lines are contained and make sure the fire doesn’t go outside,” said Assistant Chief Patrick Butler, the incident commander of the Pacific Palisades fire.
In San Bernardino, firefighters took on a blaze that broke out Monday afternoon dangerously close to homes in the Little Mountain area.
The fire started shortly after 5 p.m. Monday in thick brush near West 39th Street and North Severance Avenue. Aided by wind gusts of up to 30 mph, the fire raced up hills, burning about 20 acres and damaging at least three homes.
Jimmy Schiller, a field public information officer with San Bernardino County Fire, said Little Mountain is an area that’s prone to fires, in part because it is in the direct path of wind that comes through a nearby mountain pass.
Firefighters regularly perform prescribed burns in the area, the latest about three months ago. Firefighters burned about 100 acres in hopes of mitigating fire risk, he said.
A reporter’s first time covering a California wildfire became a baptism by fire retardant.
Little Mountain has a small number of hydrants, meaning firefighters were taking frequent trips up and down the hill to fetch more water.
“It was a recipe for an unfortunate afternoon,” Schiller said.
National Weather Service forecasters predict weak to moderate Santa Anas will develop in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties through Wednesday with temperatures spiking into the high 80s and low 90s.
By Thursday and Friday, fire weather conditions could be as severe as seen during the first two days of Saddleridge fire, which burned almost 8,800 acres, damaged 88 structures and destroyed 19, including some homes.
Los Angeles firefighters got a taste of the unpredictable nature of brush fire dangers as they fought the Pacific Palisades blaze.
Before noon, fire crews had largely beaten back a significant portion of the flames that were threatening homes. Several helicopters were fighting the fire with water drops as crews scaled a section of the hillside in an effort to extinguish the smoldering blaze.
The Durfee fire near Whittier Narrows brush fire, broke out about 3:30 p.m. Monday.
“This is an extremely challenging fire for hand crews,” Butler said. “They’re essentially clawing their way up this hillside with rocks coming down on them.”
An all-female inmate firefighting crew retreated just before 1 p.m. as the fire jumped toward them over the ridge.
One firefighter was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center with heat exhaustion. Roughly 30 minutes later, a group of people received an evacuation alert on their phones as rocks began to slide down the ridge.
One person was taken to the hospital after complaining of moderate respiratory distress.
Fire officials say no homes sustained significant damage, in part because of firefighters’ efforts and the lack of wind in the area.
Tom Danco said he had told his wife, Lynne, to evacuate when she called him Monday morning. She had been walking their dog and said she could see flames several hundred yards from their home in the Palisades Highlands. She took her dog and some important documents from their safe and left.
Danco, who was nearby, headed home to try to retrieve more items but was stopped at a roadblock on Palisades Drive. He said he wasn’t concerned at the moment about their home, citing favorable weather conditions.
“As long as there’s not a lot of wind, the fire department is really good,” he said.
Ash rained down nearby on Pacific Coast Highway as the canyon smoldered.
Saleem Major, 34, was taking a walk on the beach with his service dog, Eve, near Coastline Drive when he heard several firetrucks zooming by on Pacific Coast Highway, sirens blaring.
He checked Twitter to see where the fire was. Then, he looked up.
“Next thing you know, I look to my left and it was right behind the hill where I’m at,” said Major, who lives in Venice. “I didn’t even notice it.”
At Palisades Charter High School, less than two miles southeast of the fire, a number of students left school early because their families were in the evacuation zone, Palisades High spokeswoman Ashley Austin said.
Tracey Price, 45, picked up her daughter Audrey, 6, and several of her daughter’s classmates from Calvary Christian after neighborhood friends sent her photos of smoke near the campus on Palisades Drive.
“I got here as soon as I could,” she said as she packed the children into the car.
Vince Downey, the head of the school, waved as the last few dozen students got picked up from campus.
Downey said that although many parents came to collect their children, the school didn’t instruct anyone to do so, partly to prevent street congestion as officials tried to keep the area clear for fire engines.
Downey said it was middle school students who alerted school officials to the fire in between classes. Teachers attempted to continue classes as usual, despite the distraction.
“We tried to make it as normal a day as possible,” he said.
Times staff writers Sonali Kohli, Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Colleen Shalby and Sonja Sharp contributed to this report.
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