Roughly 200,000 people have been forced to flee Southern California’s wildfires that as of Thursday have scorched more than 116,100 acres and destroyed more than 150 homes as intensifying winds prompted an unprecedented warning level of purple.
That color coding labels the flames’ fanning winds as “extreme” and, as one fire official has described, beyond manageable.
“There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds,” Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, we need everyone in the public to listen and pay attention. This is not ‘watch the news and go about your day.’ This is pay attention minute-by-minute … keep your head on a swivel,” he said.
The Santa Ana winds, which blow in hot and dry from the California desert, could potentially reach hurricane-force speeds of 75 mph on Thursday, creating an “extreme fire danger,” according to an alert sent by the countywide emergency system in Los Angeles.
Wind gusts have already been seen reaching 85 mph in Ventura, where the largest of the wildfires, the Thomas Fire, is located.
The National Weather Service has warned that winds are expected to increase from Thursday morning through Friday, with the strongest gusts hitting 80 mph, likely seen in the mountains. Damaging gusts up to 60 mph will also be possible in the valleys and parts of western Los Angeles and eastern Ventura Counties.
“Winds this strong may down trees and power lines, causing property damage or power outages. Cross winds can make driving difficult, especially for drivers of high profile vehicles and vehicles towing trailers,” the NWS advised.
A map released by the NWS paints the areas of Ventura, Orange County and San Diego with the purple warning. The winds are expected to die down to a “marginal,” or yellow-colored threat, for most of those areas on Friday.
Since Monday, the Los Angeles area has been steadily surrounded by several, growing fires.
As of Thursday morning, the Thomas Fire had destroyed more than 150 homes and grown to more than 96,000 acres. It only has 5 percent containment, fire officials said.
For roughly three hours early Thursday morning, the fire forced the 101 Freeway to be closed between Routes 126 and 150. That closure eliminated all routes between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Creek Fire, which is currently raging in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, has meanwhile consumed 12,605 acres and is 10 percent contained. At least 30 homes have been destroyed because of that blaze, and 2,500 others have been evacuated, Reuters reported.
The Rye Fire, located northwest of Los Angeles, has grown to 7,000 acres with 15 percent containment. The Skirball Fire, which is threatening large estates in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, has grown to 475 acres.
At a press conference late Thursday morning, Los Angeles city officials said four homes had been destroyed and 11 others damaged by the Skirball Fire. Twenty percent of the fire is contained.
Among the properties affected by the blaze is the private Moraga Estate winery, which is owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch.
In a statement to Reuters, Murdoch said the property has been evacuated and there may be some damage to the buildings.
“We believe the winery and house are still intact,” the statement read.
Roughly 120 miles south of Los Angeles, fire crews in San Diego County on Thursday ordered a mandatory evacuation of residents in an area of Bonsall where a fast-moving vegetation fire dubbed the Lilac Fire has spread across 100-150 acres. The fire is 0 percent contained, authorities said on Twitter.
Two structures have been destroyed by the fire and 12 others damaged.
Other smaller fires in Huntington Beach and Malibu were quickly put out Thursday morning, though the Hungtingon Beach blaze damaged a school and a bank, CBS Los Angeles reported.
A quarter acre was burned by the fire in Malibu but no structural damage or injuries were reported, fire officials said. NBC Los Angeles reported that roughly 200 firefighters were at the scene to extinguish it.
Though no human fatalities have been reported from the fires, there have been a number of animal deaths, as well as rescues.
Nearly 30 horses were killed at a ranch near Sylmar on Tuesday as the fast-moving Creek Fire made its way through.
The owners, speaking to the Los Angeles Times, said a fire crew ordered them to flee the scene after waking to the blaze in the early morning hours.
“All I could think about was the horses, the horses, the horses. And they were like, ‘Get out, get out, get out,’” Patricia Padilla, whose family owns the ranch, told the Times. “The structures can get rebuilt, but the lives of the horses can’t. … That’s my biggest heartbreak.”
This story has been updated with new information on the fires’ developments.