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.
Wildfires continue to grow in Southern California. Here is amazing footage of a ‘firenado’ over the #ThomasFire. Turbulent winds interact with intense heat rising over the wildfire and this interaction creates a whirlwind, very similar to a dust devil. pic.twitter.com/77h7Xo1AFz
— WeatherNation (@WeatherNation) December 7, 2017
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…