The fast-moving fires were fueled by intense Santa Ana winds.
Fueled by extreme Santa Ana winds, four wildfires in Southern California this week burned more than 110,000 acres, forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes and bookmarked the end of a disastrous year for the state so often plagued with intense blazes.
Among the thousands of evacuees were celebrities like Paris Hilton, Chrissy Teigen and Chelsea Handler, whose multi-million dollar homes sat in striking distance of the flames engulfing Bel Air in the hills above the University of California, Los Angeles campus.
“Never thought I’d get to actually play what I thought was a hypothetical game of what would you grab if there were a fire. so far all I have is Luna, some limited edition Oreos and my spike tv award,” Teigen, who is married to singer John Legend, wrote.
While small in size compared to the other active blazes, the 475-acre "Skirball Fire" has already burned down several homes and threatened the high-price residential area as fire officials issued mandatory evacuations.
As detailed by the Los Angeles Times, Bel Air was memorably attacked by flames in 1961, when more than 500 homes were destroyed in one of the city's most destructive fires. That fire, the Times reported, elicited major fire safety regulations, including mandatory brush clearance and a city-wide ban on wood-shingled roofs.
Ideas of a set fire season that spans from June through October in California have been dismantled in recently, particularly this year with destructive blazes wreaking havoc in December. Earlier this week, the Thomas Fire northwest of Los Angeles erupted in Ventura County Monday evening — and firefighters were still only able to contain 5 percent of it by Thursday morning. The fire has burned through 96,000 acres, destroyed 150 structures and threatened 15,000 others.
The Creek Fire in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest just north of Los Angeles burned 12,605 acres by Thursday, destroying four structures, and the Rye Fire just west of Santa Clarita burned through 7,000 acres, destroying one structure. Both fires were only 5 percent and 10 percent contained, respectively, by Thursday morning.
Officials issued Red Flag warnings — which advise of extreme conditions ripe for wildfires — from Santa Barbara all the way down to San Diego and into Arizona. A number of schools, businesses and essential freeways shut down this week as a result of the blazes — and officials anticipate it could get worse. On Wednesday evening, an emergency alert went off to all of Los Angeles County warning of "extreme fire danger" and strong winds.
Dry, hot and strong, Santa Ana winds barrel through Southern California in the fall and winter. Paired with a spark and dry brush, the winds fuel incredibly fast-moving fires that can take communities and firefighters by surprise. On Thursday, wind gusts were expected to reach 80 miles per hour. “These will be winds where there will be no ability to fight fires,” Chief Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, told The New York Times. “This will be about evacuations and getting people out from in front of any fires that start.”