Los Angeles threatened as wildfires spread, forcing thousands to evacuate

LOS ANGELES (NBC) – The hills north of Los Angeles were burning Wednesday as the wildfires that have already devoured a large swath of Ventura County were now threatening the nation’s second-largest city.

With several multimillion-dollar mansions in the tiny Bel-Air neighborhood already ablaze and flames threatening the Getty Center arts complex and its priceless collection, officials closed down part of Interstate 405 — a key north-south artery. All the while, firefighters rushed to contain the blaze.

Meanwhile, homeowners in Bel-Air and the nearby Sherman Oaks neighborhood joined the tens of thousands of other Southern California residents who already fled the infernos that have scorched more than 83,000 acres and reduced scores of homes and businesses to ashes, NBC Los Angeles reported.

The massive blazes showed no signs of stopping as roaring winds fueled flames that feasted on the tinder-dry conditions in the region. And by midmorning, it had already consumed a half-dozen mansions and 150 acres of some of L.A.’s most expensive and desirable properties, The Los Angeles Times reported.

While helicopters bombarded the blaze from above with water drops, some 125 firefighters armed with chainsaws struggled to clear away the thick brush that was feeding the fire.

Police ordered an evacuation of all homes between two of the city’s most storied roadways — Mulholland Drive on the north and Sunset Boulevard on the south — as thick black smoke and swirling ash turned day into night.

In Ventura County, north of L.A., Santa Ana winds carrying hot and extremely dry air from inland, gusting 35 mph to 55 mph, continued to stymie firefighters.

“By late tomorrow night into Thursday, those Santa Ana winds are expected to increase again in strength,” Todd Durham, the incident commander for CalFire Incident Management Team Four, said on Tuesday night.

More than 1,770 firefighters and police officers were waging war with the fire in Ventura County, according to the latest incident report. One firefighter was injured but has since been released from the hospital, officials said.

So far no fatalities or civilian injuries had been reported, but the 150 structures have been destroyed and 12,000 more continue to be under threat, Durham said.

Rodrigo Rivera, 22, who lives in Oxnard, said he drove up to Ventura late Monday night to check on a pal and wound up helping a firefighter evacuate residents.

“When he came running toward us, that’s when I realized this is not controlled at all,” Rivera told NBC News. “You know it’s a serious moment when a firefighter comes running to you asking for help.”

A wildfire threatens homes as it burns along the 101 Freeway on Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Jae C. Hong / AP
Late Tuesday, the fire in Ventura County jumped Highway 101 and began heading west to Solimar Beach, causing evacuation orders to be issued for the North Coast area of Ventura County.

Officials have still not stated what caused the fire, but some said the ongoing drought has left the area “ripe for spreading” and likely to get a whole lot bigger.

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