Fierce fires ravaged southern California on Tuesday, burning large tracts of land in a matter of hours and forcing tens of thousands of people to leave their homes.
As Ventura County firefighters grappled with an explosive fire northwest of downtown Los Angeles, others across the region faced additional fires that burned during the day and forced more evacuations. Authorities issued ominous warnings of more dangers during a "multi-day event" in the area, as meteorologists said the region faces "extreme fire danger" at least on Thursday due to the intense Santa Ana winds and the low moisture that could cause fires. They grow quickly.
Forest fires are the last grim chapter in a brutal year for California, which occurs a few months after the deadly flames in the state's wine region that killed dozens of people and razed thousands of buildings.
Ventura County, where a small fire quickly got out of control and spread through more than 50,000 acres in the afternoon. The fire – which burned an area almost as large as Seattle – extended to the city of Ventura, home to more than 100,000 people.
"The prospects for containment are not good," said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen. information when the fire began its aggressive expansion. "Actually, Mother Nature is going to decide when we have the ability to turn it off."
While the flames continued to spread, the sun rose above Ventura and revealed the damage left by what is called Thomas Fire. The houses were destroyed, and the charred remains of the cars sat among piles of ashes. The impact hit the home of many of those who responded to the fire: a local fire officer told a journalist that he had to call his daughter to tell her that her apartment had been burned.
California Governor Jerry Brown, D, declared a state of emergency in Ventura County, calling the fire "very dangerous" as it spread rapidly. "We will continue to attack him with everything we have," Brown said. "It is essential that residents remain ready and evacuate immediately if they are asked to do so."
What caused the fire remained unknown on Tuesday, Lorenzen said, and the final effects of the fire were not clear either. Authorities said at least 150 structures in Ventura County were destroyed Tuesday afternoon, but Lorenzen said that number could be increased because firefighters could not yet assess the damage in most of the affected areas. He also warned that there was "a great possibility" that more areas would be evacuated.
Lorenzen said that 27,000 people were evacuated and that "almost none of them knows the state of their homes."
Some of those who were given bad news. Debbie Gennaro, who wiped away her tears while being consoled by her husband, Mark, said they had been told that their 12-year-old house had been burned to a cinder shell.
They filled clothes, photographs and passports Monday night and went to a hotel before the fire. The couple is not sure where they will go next.
"This is life in Southern California, this is where we live," said Mark Gennaro. "I'm standing on that hill, and I see all that brush, and I think, 'Something's going to happen sometime.'"
Tuesday's fires unusually late in the wildfire season. Unlike other parts of the United States, summer and early fall tend to be dry in California. Uncontrolled fires only need three things to start and spread: fuel, dry weather and a source of ignition.
The dry weather is significant this week: the humidity was only 10 percent on Monday morning and the "red flag" fire conditions will last at least Thursday, according to the National Meteorological Service.
After an epic, multi-year drought, California finally got the rain and snow it needed last winter, and that allowed the vegetation to bounce back. But as the weather dried up, it created abundant fuel, which is now fueling forest fires.
People who escaped the fires reported apocalyptic scenes.
Gena Aguayo, 53, of Ventura said he saw fire "descending" the mountain. "When Lorena evacuated with her son On Tuesday morning, after staying at home for the first time, he said the wind was So strong that he blew ashes in his house.
"I've never experienced anything like this," said Lara, 42. "Maybe in Santa Barbara, but we did not expect it here. "
When fires forced waves of people to rush out of their homes, the contours of daily life were closed, schools closed on Tuesday, while some events were canceled in the midst of fires and power outages. In Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, more than 260,000 people were left without power at some point, Southern California Edison said in a tweet.
Firefighters were frank about the fire, saying it was out of control and that the structures The entire area was under serious threat, officials from Ventura County said, "Due to the intensity of the fire, crews have problems accessing and there are multiple reports of burning structures."
Further east, firefighters also They rushed to respond to a forest fire north of downtown Los Angeles that also expanded rapidly, growing to 11,000 acres on Tuesday afternoon. The authorities said the fire started outside the city limits before threatening parts of the Sylmar and Lake View Terrace areas.
The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, declared a state of emergency in the city and said that more than 30 buildings were burned in the fire. He urged about 150,000 people in the affected areas to evacuate.
Two firefighters received treatment after being injured in the fire, Garcetti said.
"We are facing critical fire behavior, in ways that people may not have experienced in the past," Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby said at a news conference.
"This is going to be a multi-day event," warned Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck. "This will not be the only fire."
Underlining Beck's point, Osby said that while preparing to report to reporters, his fire department was called to respond to another fire that had begun to burn in Santa Clarita, California. Osby said the county department diverted two helicopters to respond to that fire, which authorities said grew to 5,000 acres late Tuesday and closed the interstate there.
The Creek Fire triggered a wave of mandatory evacuations, forcing people to abandon about 2,500 homes, and a convalescent hospital evacuated 105 patients, authorities said. Osby said several structures were lost because of that fire.
It was not clear how many people were injured or killed in the fires. In Ventura County, a battalion chief was injured in a traffic accident on Monday night and is expected to recover, said Lorenzen, fire chief.
The National Meteorological Service reported that damaging winds and "very critical weather conditions" would return late Wednesday night to Thursday, saying that conditions could lead to "very rapid fire growth" and "extreme fire behavior" " The Meteorological Service issued a "red alert" warning for Ventura and Los Angeles, saying wind gusts between 50 mph and 70 mph are likely until Thursday.
Authorities had previously warned that a combination of strong winds and low humidity this week could increase the risk of forest fires in Southern California. Cal Fire said it had moved resources from the northern part of the state to the south and prepared aircraft and fire equipment to respond.
Once the fire in Ventura County began on Monday, it moved "incredibly fast," said the fire sergeant of Ventura County. . Eric Buschow
Robert Perez, who preaches at the Santa Paula Church of Christ in Ventura County, was driving home from the airport when he heard about his daughter's Thomas fire, who called to let him know.
Perez said that when he finally got home around 11 pm, the police were evacuating his street. Perez, 57, quickly loaded his wife, daughter, grandson and pets in his car and drove to the church.
They planned to return home in the early hours of the morning, but the strong winds of Santa Ana put their house in danger so they stayed at the church. Pérez said her family was joined by other members of the church, who They said they slept overnight in their cars in the church parking lot.
"The fire was very close to the church, I think it scared the members," he said. "There were a few members who arrived and parked in our parking lot but did not enter the church."
For some, the fires were a surprise. Lance Korthals, of Ventura, said he looked out through his blinds on Tuesday morning and "saw a strange color." Then he saw that the hills behind his apartment complex "were completely engulfed in flames."
Korthals, 66, a business executive originally retired from Detroit, said he then knocked on the doors trying to alert others in the apartment complex, but had already evacuated, so he hit the road.
"The trees within the complex were already on fire," Korthals said. "I had to drive around the flames that were already flowing on the road."
Others, however, said they expected something like this to happen.
"We live in Southern California," said Kevin Wycoff, 55, who was with his family at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, which housed the evacuees. "This [ash] is what we call snow, this is our climate."
Michelle Wycoff, his wife, added: "Soon we will have landslides."
Berman reported from Washington. Travis M. Andrews, Angela Fritz and J. Freedom du Lac in Washington contributed to this report.