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Southern California wildfires burn with little containment as conditions worsen

Posted at 7:03 AM, Dec 05, 2017

Firefighters across Southern California are battling six major wildfires, and brutal Santa Ana winds are expected to continue fanning the flames through Saturday.

California's Department of Forest and Fire Protection tweeted Thursday afternoon that the new fires, the Lilac fire in San Diego County and the Liberty fire in Riverside County, are now being fueled by continued Santa Ana winds and low humidity.

Winds are expected to die down some on Friday, before picking up again in intensity on Saturday.

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The weather is not cooperating with the hundreds of officials trying to contain the flames in the region. Red flag warnings have been extended across much of Southern California through Saturday, and high winds warnings are in effect for mountains and valleys in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Winds gusted to over 60 mph in Ventura and Los Angeles counties on Thursday, causing embers to spread even more. Gusts were in the 30 to 50 mph range in San Diego County. Much of Southern California is also experiencing humidity levels in the teens or even single digits. Relative humidity in San Diego Thursday afternoon was just 5 percent.

More than 5,000 firefighters have been dealing with the first four large wildfires, as well as a smaller one in San Bernardino, which is entirely contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Thomas fire, which was the first to ignite, has burned over 100,000 acres and is expected to intensify because of the increasing winds. The Skirball fire is small, but its threat to heavily populated areas of Los Angeles has drawn widespread attention. The Creek and Rye fires continued to burn Thursday with little containment.

All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and 17 schools on Los Angeles' west side were shuttered through Friday. At least 265 schools have been closed. UCLA canceled classes Thursday because of the Skirball fire.

Thomas fire

The Thomas fire in Ventura County, the largest of the four blazes, started Monday night as a 50-acre brush fire in foothills east of Santa Paula and grew to 10,000 acres in just four hours, authorities said.

It swelled to over 115,000 acres by late Thursday, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

The fire was just 5 percent contained as of Thursday night.

More than 88,000 residents have been evacuated, and 15,000 homes are threatened by the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Authorities on Thursday morning upgraded voluntary evacuation orders to mandatory for parts of Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County.

The fire spread to Santa Barbara County late Thursday, prompting California Gov. Gerry Brown to issue a state of emergency for the county, the third to be designated.

Authorities said 439 structures have been destroyed in the fire.

Officials were concerned about part of the Thomas fire heading northeast and threatening a nursing home in Ojai. The 25 residents and staffers were evacuated as a precaution, authorities said.

Creek fire

The Creek fire, in the Kagel Canyon area above Los Angeles' Sylmar neighborhood, has scorched 15,323 acres and destroyed at least 15 buildings and damaged another 15. Over 150,000 residents have been evacuated, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Cal Fire said 2,500 structures were being threatened.

The blaze was 20 percent contained as of late Thursday, and 1,686 personnel are fighting the blaze.

While no people have died in any of the fires, the Creek fire was responsible for the death of almost 40 horses at Rancho Padilla, according to ABC station KABC in Los Angeles. The horses were trapped in a barn that burned to the ground as the owners were evacuated with no warning.

Skirball fire

The Skirball fire has burned just 475 acres so far, but its proximity to Los Angeles and responsibility for briefly shutting down the infamously crowded 405 Freeway has garnered nationwide attention.

The fire is threatening the Getty Center, a museum in western Los Angeles. Officials were focused on keeping the flames from jumping the freeway and heading east. The blaze was 30 percent contained as of Thursday evening, and firefighters had managed to keep it from breaching containment lines.

Authorities said 12 structures have been lost in the blaze, with an additional six damaged. One firefighter suffered minor burns while fighting the flames, Cal Fire reported.

Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency Wednesday afternoon because of the Skirball fire in the city's Bel-Air neighborhood.



Rye fire

The Rye fire has scorched 7,000 acres in Santa Clarita, west of Valencia. The blaze was 25 percent contained as of Thursday evening, the highest percentage of the six fires, though 5,420 homes are still threatened by flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

About 2,000 residents have been evacuated, though mandatory evacuation orders in the area have been lifted.

Some 775 firefighters were on the scene battling the Rye fire Wednesday afternoon.

Lilac fire

Flames from the Lilac fire are growing at a "dangerous rate" with more than 1,000 structures threatened, the department's San Diego office tweeted. At least 20 structures have been destroyed and an "unknown" number of structures have been damaged, officials said. More than 4,100 acres have been burned and the fire is 0 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

Officials said the fire began shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday morning near Fallbrook and had grown to 50 acres in just an hour. The city of Oceanside was under threat late Thursday. Peak gusts had reached 66 mph Thursday afternoon in Pala, California, near the fire, contributing to the rapid spread of flames.

Three civilians had suffered injuries and were taken to local hospitals, though authorities could not confirm their severity.

Brown declared a state of emergency in San Diego County due to the Lilac fire, his office announced Thursday afternoon.

Evacuation shelters have been set up at Fallbrook High School and Pala Casino.

Liberty fire

The Liberty fire, located near Murrieta, California north of Temecula, was up to 300 acres Thursday at 8 p.m. local time. It was 10 percent contained, Cal Fire said.

Two structures had been destroyed in the fire, but evacuation orders had been lifted for much of the area. Murrieta Mesa High School remained open as a shelter for some residents.

ABC News' Matthew Fuhrman, Michael Kreisel and Jonah Lustig contributed to this report.