Less than two months after wildfires burned through 245,000 acres, destroyed 8,400 structures, and killed 42 people in Northern California’s wine country, there is more devastation. This time, the blazes, fueled by dry brush and fierce Santa Ana winds, are wreaking havoc in Southern California.
The infernos were not entirely unexpected. On December 3, the National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for much of Southern California. They warned residents that the severe dry weather along with the strongest and longest Santa Ana wind event, which was expected to last through the week, significantly increased the risk for wildfires. They were right.
On December 4, a small brush fire, reported at 6:28 PM PST in Ventura County, quickly exploded, scorching everything in its path. Dubbed the Thomas Fire, it is now the biggest and most devastating of the several fires currently raging through the state. After burning through 230,000 acres, destroying over 150 structures, and forcing more than 88,000 residents to flee their homes, the out-of-control blaze has spread to the nearby Santa Barbara County and is now threatening the coastal towns of Carpinteria and Montecito.
The news is slightly more encouraging on the other fires. The Creek Fire near downtown Los Angeles and the Rye Fire in the city of Santa Clarita, which both started in the early hours of December 5, are now about 80 percent contained. However, the former has burned through 15,619 acres and destroyed or damaged over 200 structures, while the Rye Fire has scorched 6,000 acres of land. The Skirball Fire, which began on December 6 and is 75 percent contained, has burned through 422 acres, destroyed six structures and damaged scores more in the affluent Bel Air neighborhood, which is home to many celebrities.
The blazes are not restricted to the areas around Los Angeles. About 120 miles away, in Northern San Diego, the Lilac Fire that ignited on December 7, has charred over 4000 acres and 200 structures, including several trailer homes in a retirement community. Also affected, was the California Horse Racing Board, a facility with over 450 thoroughbred horses. The owners managed to transport about 360 animals to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, which is currently housing over 850 displaced horses. A few that escaped into the wilderness through a broken fence are still missing, while an estimated 46 horses that refused to leave the burning stables are believed to have perished.
With the intensity of the Santa Ana winds expected to decrease by Tuesday, December 12, firefighters hope to soon gain control over the blazes, especially the Thomas Fire, which is already the 5th largest wildfire in modern California history. Hopefully, they will succeed allowing the thousands of evacuated residents to return home and start rebuilding their lives.
Resources: latimes.com,businessinsider.com, phys.org