Jackson Rogow, 24, woke up at 6 a.m. to the smell of smoke and the wail of sirens. He ran outside in his boxer shorts, and saw his neighbors on Bellagio Road standing in the street and packing their cars. The moon was blood red.
He turned on the news, and saw aerial footage of his eight-unit apartment building from a helicopter monitoring the Skirball fire. He turned to his girlfriend and said, “We should pack.”
By 7 a.m., fire trucks were racing up and down the street, apparently trying to get as close to the fire as possible, Rogow said. He waved to one truck and shouted, “Should I leave?” A firefighter gave him a thumbs-up, he said, but he wasn’t sure what that meant.
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.
Fire officials said Wednesday that the area they call Branch 4 — which includes the city of Ventura — is their highest priority, due to the “tremendous volume of fire” there.
If the wind turns, the area they’ve dubbed Branch 1, which includes Ojai, will be their priority. Firefighters are putting together a plan to protect Ojai and expressed concern that winds could push the flames toward the city.
They reiterated a message spread Wednesday morning: The key is to put out even small bushes on fire along roads and extinguish the tiniest embers on the way to bigger blazes because “that’s how it’s spreading from house to house.”
The sight of firetrucks rolling past Ojai boutiques and wine-tasting rooms under a heavy pall of smoke made it impossible for officials to give a satisfying response to the big question on everyone’s minds Wednesday morning: Is the town going to burn down?
“I’ve been telling people, ‘If you can get your loved ones and valuables to a safe place, you should,’” said Ojai City Manager Steve McClary. “That’s a tough answer to give. I wish I could be more specific. But this is no time for false promises.”
Eastern portions of the mountain community of about 20,000 were under mandatory evacuation orders. Downtown residents and shop owners, though, faced voluntary evacuation, and worried that a shift in the wind could drive wildfires on surrounding ridgelines farther south and into town.
President Trump offered his “thoughts and prayers” to Californians who are experiencing another storm of wildfires this week and encouraged residents to heed the advice of local officials.
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of California’s wildfires. I encourage everyone to heed the advice and orders of local and state officials. THANK YOU to all First Responders for your incredible work! https://t.co/g9y9PkB352
Southern California is currently under assault from a series of wind-driven wildfires that have destroyed more than a hundred homes in Ventura County and threatened thousands more in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
The president was criticized in October for taking more than a week to tweet about a series of deadly fires that swept through Northern California’s wine country, despite making public statements about the disaster early on.
More than 50 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District are closed today as firefighters battle multiple blazes in Southern California. All of Santa Monica Malibu Unified is closed, along with many Ventura County schools. All Simi Valley Unified campuses will also be closed Wednesday due to the Rye fire in Santa Clarita.
Students and staff of the following Los Angeles Unified School District campuses were told to stay home: