A wildfire in Ventura County, southern California has forced thousands of people out of their homes and scorched more than 50,000 acres, with second and third fires spreading swiftly over thousands of acres in Los Angeles County.
Whipped by high Santa Ana winds and feeding on dry vegetation, the fast-spreading Thomas wildfire prompted mandatory evacuation orders for some 27,000 Ventura County residents after igniting overnight. Tens of thousands of people are without power.
Officials estimated that at least 150 structures were levelled by the blaze and that one firefighter had been injured. The blaze encroached on the city limits of Ventura, home to more than 100,000 people, and burned within a quarter-mile of city hall. School districts across the county were closed.
A smaller fire erupted on the northern edge of Los Angeles where residents scrambled to get out as heavy smoke billowed over the city, while a third blaze also struck the same county.
Talking about the larger Thomas Fire, Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said: “The prospects for containment aren’t good. Really, mother nature is going to decide if we have the ability to put it out”.
Fire officials were settling in for a long battle. The National Weather Service said “very critical fire weather conditions,” with Santa Ana winds continuing to gust powerfully, would likely continue through Thursday and contribute to “very rapid fire spread”.
Recognising the scale of the peril, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services announced it had secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in containing the fire, and Gov Jerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation for Ventura County.
“This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we’ll continue to attack it with all we’ve got,” Mr Brown said in a statement. “It’s critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so”.
The smaller brush fire had expanded to around 11,000 acres in the northern Los Angeles area by Tuesday afternoon, spurring evacuation orders and warnings about embers carrying the fire into residential areas.
“My message, very strong and clear, to the residents of Los Angeles, is to be ready to go,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, urging people to gather “critical documents” and possessions.
Noting that stiff winds were likely to persist, fire officials cautioned that flames could persist for days and that new infernos might…