Here’s the latest on Southern California’s four largest wildfires

Firefighters John Kafoury, left, and Matt Petro with the Orange County Fire Authority assist Los Angeles County firefighters working to gain containment of a wildfire that is burning in the Placerita Canyon area of Santa Clarita.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Firefighters on Wednesday increased containment around four Southern California wildfires that have gutted homes, cars and forced some residents to flee, according to state and federal officials.

The blazes started at the tail end of a brutal statewide heat wave that dried out valley grasses and brush-covered hillsides. Officials say California’s wettest winter in more than a decade created a fresh crop of fuel spread across the state that has since dried out in the spring and summer heat.

Though temperatures are expected to dip Friday, warm, dry breezes are expected to return over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Update: Southern California is blanketed by the smell of wildfires; here's the latest >>

In response, the Angeles National Forest expects to raise the fire danger level from high to very high effective Friday, park officials announced.

“Live-fuel moisture levels in the shrubs and brush have decreased, grasses at lower elevations have cured and fire activity has increased recently around the forest,” officials said.

In the meantime, here’s where the four biggest fires in Southern California stood on Wednesday:

Manzanita fire

The largest of them all, the Manzanita fire in Riverside County was 6,309 acres and 43% contained late Wednesday morning, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.


Riverside County





The fire was sparked Monday by a car crash along Highway 79 in the San Jacinto Mountains and has been fueled by high temperatures, low humidity and wind gusts of up to 35 mph that have pushed it east toward Banning.

Riverside County authorities said evacuation warnings remain in place for communities between Highland Home Road and Highway 243 — an area that includes Poppet Flats and Silent Valley.

A day earlier, those in voluntary evacuation areas said things appeared much less dire than they did Monday evening, when ash rained down and smoke and flames rose on the horizon.

"Last night it was iffy," Jeanie Crist, a 64-year-old resident of Silent Valley Club told The Times on Tuesday.

The mood had returned to normal the next day, however, as campers went about their normal summer routines and lounged among oak trees — even as fire officials roamed the grounds and kept a watchful eye on matters.

A helicopter drops its water load to stop the advance of the Manzanita fire, which has burned some 6,300 acres of rugged terrain and knocked down power poles off Highland Springs Avenue south of Beaumont. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A helicopter drops its water load to stop the advance of the Manzanita fire, which has burned some 6,300 acres of rugged terrain and knocked down power poles off Highland Springs Avenue south of Beaumont. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Mart fire

On Tuesday night, another blaze had popped up less than 30 miles to the north of the Manzanita fire and east of San Bernardino.


San Bernardino County





The Mart fire raced up a steep canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains about 3:15 p.m. and its flames came within feet of igniting a suburban hillside neighborhood, triggering evacuations. Firefighters managed to stop its advance with air power and ground crews.

The fire started near a Wal-Mart at Highland Avenue and Highway 330, a popular thoroughfare that leads to Big Bear. The fire has spread to 902 acres in the hills north of Highland and was 15% contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

About 560 firefighters and emergency personnel were assigned to the blaze. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

A plane drops fire retardant near homes to keep the fast-moving Mart fire from approaching from the hillsides near Highway 330 in Highland, Calif.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Hill fire

In San Luis Obispo County, the Hill fire started Monday and has burned 1,598 acres and was 65% contained Wednesday, Cal Fire said.

The blaze was burning along eastern foothills of a coastal mountain range near Santa Margarita among secluded homes and tall, dry grass and vegetation.


San Luis Obispo County





According to TMZ, “Big Bang Theory” actor Johnny Galecki’s ranch was destroyed in the blaze.

In a statement to the website, Galecki said: “My heart goes out to all in the area who are also experiencing loss from this vicious fire, the threat of which we live with constantly, which may seem crazy to some but we do so because living in our beautiful, rural area makes it worthwhile. It's never the structures that create a community — it's the people. And if the people of Santa Margarita have taught me anything it's that, once the smoke has cleared, literally and figuratively, it's a time to reach out and rebuild. We've done it before, and will need to do it together again, and it will make our community even closer and stronger. Endless thanks to Cal Fire and the Sheriff's Office. I know you guys are fighting the good fight to keep us safe. So very relieved no one has been hurt."

The Hill fire burns near Huer Huero Road in Santa Margarita on Monday. (Joe Johnston / AP)
(Joe Johnston / AP)

Placerita fire

The Placerita fire started Sunday afternoon when a motorist crashed into a tree, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The blaze burned 780 acres and was expected to be fully contained by the end of Wednesday, officials said.


Los Angeles County





In its first hours over the weekend, the blaze had knocked out power and triggered mandatory evacuations for dozens of residents after it jumped the freeway and sent up a towering plume of gray smoke that was visible for miles.

Laura Amara, a 48-year-old secretary, was hosting a baby shower at her house on Running Horse Road when the fire began.

"It started with my girlfriend having me come to the backyard where she saw a little puff of flames come up and I saw this bigger ball of fire all of a sudden kind of explode,” she told a reporter Monday.

Amara went back and told her 40 guests the news. “Um, we’re all leaving,” she said.

"I was worried about my house, but I've been through this many times,” she said. "You live in Southern California, you live in dry conditions, just like earthquakes, you get fire too. But when it burns, I want everyone out the house and to be safe, so that's my concern. Especially with a very pregnant daughter, it was just like 'go go go' and our blood pressures were skyrocketing.”

At Golden Oak Ranch, an 890-acre filming location constructed by Disney and ABC studios, the fire burned a structure that had been used as a prop house, said L.A. County Sheriff's Department spokesman Christopher Craft.

U.S. Forest Service firefighters stopped the blaze from burning other structures in the faux business district and suburban street used for filming movies and television shows.

Laboring under triple-digit temperatures, firefighters from Bear Divide Hotshots keep embers in check on scorched hills in the Placerita Canyon area of Santa Clarita. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Fires statewide

Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service lists seven other active fires burning in the state from San Diego to Fresno counties, the two largest of which were nearly contained Wednesday at about 1,500 acres apiece.

About 2,300 wildfires on state and federal land have burned 25,000 acres so far in 2017, according to government statistics.

Staff writers Javier Panzar, Sonaiya Kelley and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.


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12:20 p.m.: This article was updated with an increased fire danger in the Angeles National Forest.

11:55 a.m.: This article was updated with new Manzanita fire containment figures.

This article was originally published at 11:05 a.m.