Historic Wildfires: California seeks federal disaster declaration

12/10/17

LOS ANGELES (AP) –

Fire officials say the most destructive of the Southern California wildfires has burned more than 270 square miles and is only 15 percent contained.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown says the containment number will likely go down not because of a lack of progress, but because of the fire’s expected growth.

Ventura County fire behavioral analyst Brendan Ripley says he believes the fire is the fifth largest in California’s history.

More than 30,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Authorities warned residents at a community meeting Sunday in Santa Barbara not to ignore evacuation orders.

Forecasters say gusty, dry Santa Ana winds will continue in Southern California for at least another day in areas where crews are battling wildfires, including one that is threatening a seaside city.

The National Weather Service has extended red flag warnings until Monday night for parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Powerful gusts are expected through late Sunday in mountains of Santa Barbara County, where firefighters are protecting homes from flames moving down hillsides toward coastal neighborhoods.

New evacuations were ordered Sunday for the city of Carpinteria, which has been under threat for days from a huge and destructive wildfire that’s still pushing west nearly a week after breaking out.

Crews have made progress on other fronts of that fire and on separate blazes in Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside counties.

 

Oregon 12/8/17 – First an update on the local crews working in California:

The Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, has activated its Agency Operations Center and deployed 15 strike teams with equipment and personnel who are now actively engaged in assisting with the wildfires in California.

All Oregon resources have been assigned to either the Thomas Fire (seven Oregon strike teams) burning near Ventura, California, or the Creek Fire (eight Oregon strike teams) burning near Sylmar, California. They are very busy currently working on their assignments. Total Oregon deployment: 269 personnel and 75 apparatus.

“Today’s forecasted weather will be a test to all firefighters and residents with winds expected at up to 60 mph,” said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple. “These winds are expected to last through Friday, possibly diminishing over the weekend and picking back up again at the beginning of next week.”

California OES reports the Thomas Fire is at 96,000 acres and 5% contained, and the Creek Fire is at 12,605 acres and 10% contained.

Be sure to follow the OSFM on Facebook/Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal and Twitter @OSFM for regular updates.

California made the request through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact a national state-to-state mutual aid system. The EMAC request is sent directly to Oregon Emergency Management who contact and coordinate with the appropriate Oregon agency to fulfill the requests.

Latest from CBS NEWS: Historic wildfires: California seeks federal disaster declaration 

Dec 8, 2017 7:24 AM EST

California’s newest wildfire tore through retirement communities built on golf courses and killed elite thoroughbred horses in its first destructive day. The new blaze, in San Diego County, means a huge swath of Southern California is now in flames. December’s shockingly dry, hot and windy conditions brought on unprecedented fire danger.

The San Diego-area fire quickly grew to more than 6 square miles and burned dozens of homes at Rancho Monserate Country Club.  Flames engulfed a horse training center, prompting trainers to unlock stables and encourage hundreds of race horses to run for their lives. It’s not clear how many died.

The destructive blaze broke out as firefighters tried to corral the largest fire in the state, which was burning around Ventura – 130 miles to the north. It destroyed at least 439 buildings as it grew to 180 square miles since Monday. Fire crews also fought large fires around Los Angeles. The Ventura and L.A.-area fires put tens of thousands of people under evacuation orders.

According to CalFire, as of very late Thursday night, six large fires had burned  220 square miles, 190,000 residents were evacuated, 23,000 homes were threatened, 500 were confirmed destroyed and there were 5,700 firefighters on the lines.

A woman was found dead in a wrecked car in an evacuation zone near the city of Santa Paula, where the Ventura County blaze began Monday night, but officials couldn’t immediately say whether the accident was fire-related.

Follow along below for live updates on the fires. All times are Eastern unless otherwise noted.

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The wildfires burning in Southern Califorina on Dec. 7, 2017

 CBS NEWS

6:45 a.m.: Property damage mounting

Authorities reporting on the six major wildfires said the number of structures destroyed or damaged had raced past the 500 mark early Friday, with 439 destroyed and 85 damaged in the Thomas fire alone.

2:55 a.m.: Injuries reported in Lilac fire

CalFireSanDiego reports three people suffered burns in the Lilac fire and one was suffering from smoke inhalation. In addition, the agency said one firefighter sustained a minor injury and another had smoke inhalation.

2:11 a.m.: Calif. governor requests federal disaster declaration

California Governor Jerry Brown asked President Trump to declare a state of emergency for Southern California to aid state and local efforts to fight the historic wildfires burning in the region, Brown’s office said late Thursday.

The request follows emergency proclamations by Brown for San Diego, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

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12/7/17: VENTURA, Calif. (CBS NEWS) Southern California has felt yellow wind, orange wind, and red wind. But never purple wind. Until now. The color-coded system showing the expected strength of the winds driving the region’s fierce wildfires has reached uncharted territory, pushing past red, which means “high,” into the color that means “extreme.”

“The forecast for tomorrow (Thursday) is purple,” said Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’ve never used purple before.”

Southern California has already been hit hard by three major fires that have put tens of thousands of people under evacuation orders and destroyed at nearly 200 homes and buildings, a figure almost certain to grow.

But hard-won progress of firefighters could be erased Thursday, reports CBS Los Angeles.

“We’re talking winds that can surface that can be 80 miles an hour,” Pimlott said. “These will be winds that there will (be) no ability to fight fires.”

Such winds can instantly turn a tiny fire into a large one, or carry embers that spark new fires miles away.

Millions of cellphones buzzed loudly Wednesday night from San Diego to Santa Barbara with a sound that usually means an Amber Alert, but this time meant a rare weather warning for strong winds making extreme fire danger.

Officials hope the electronic push will keep the whole region alert and keep the death toll from the week’s fires at zero.

The alert, with a long, loud tone startled users on social media, who were quick to comment on the message. Some responses were serious, reports CBS Los Angeles. Some were less so.

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Emergency wildfires alert sent to many L.A.-area residents on December 6, 2017

 CBS LOS ANGELES

The station is updating viewers with the latest on all the major wildfires.

In what may have been an early sign of the 140-square-mile fire getting new life, several thousand new evacuations were ordered late Wednesday night in Ojai, a town of artists and resorts. The blaze had been creeping there already, but an increase in winds pushed it close enough for many more to flee.

The wilder winds could easily send  make new fires explode too, as one did Wednesday in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel-Air section, where a fire consumed multimillion-dollar houses that give the rich and famous sweeping views of Los Angeles.

Little flame was visible late Tuesday, but in the morning fire exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily traveled Interstate 405 and destroying four homes.

Flames burned a wine storage shed at media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s 16-acre Moraga Vineyards estate and appeared to have damaged about 7 acres of vines, a spokeswoman said.

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Where the California wildfires are expected to strike.

 CBS NEWS

Across the wide I-405 freeway from the fire, the Getty Center art complex was closed to protect its collection from smoke damage. Many schools across Los Angeles were closed because of poor air quality and classes were canceled at 265 schools Thursday. UCLA cancelled Thursday classes.

Back in the beachside city of Ventura, the fire killed more than two dozen horses at a stable and had destroyed at least 150 structures, a number that was expected to get far bigger as firefighters are able to assess losses.

CHP is in the process of closing US 101 between State Beaches and Bates Road. The  is actively burning on both sides of the highway and the median. Please avoid the area.

Air tankers that had been grounded much of the week because of high winds flew on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.

“We’re basically in an urban firefight in Ventura, where if you can keep that house from burning, you might be able to slow the fire down,” said Tim Chavez, a fire behavior specialist at the blaze. “But that’s about it.”

 

Locals are getting involved in the fight. Oregon is once again sending fire crews to help with California Wildfires.

The state of California has once again issued a request for firefighting resources to assist with firefighting efforts in California. Oregon will be answering their request by sending resources from throughout the state. Multnomah County is sending a strike team of type-one engines to assist. The five engines for the strike team will consist of two Gresham Fire engines and three Portland Fire engines, and a Chief Officer. The team has assembled, collected the wildfire deployment equipment that had been stowed after their return from the North Bay fire barely six weeks ago, and are headed south to meet up with other resources from our state.

While this second request in a single fire season for inter-state mutual aid from California is truly unprecedented, Oregon is fortunate to have the resources available. 2017 will go down as a record year for Oregon fire crews.

Strike Teams from Linn County, Oregon were also deployed to the Southern California Wildfires. They sent 22 firefighters, nine of which are from Albany Fire Department, to Chino, California at the request of the State of California. In addition to Albany Fire, personnel and resources from Lebanon, Sweet Home, Tangent, and Scio Fire Departments were also deployed. Philomath Fire responded from Benton County with two engines and six firefighters.

Wednesday Update 12-6-17:

VENTURA, Calif. — The same vicious winds that turned three Southern California wildfires into destructive dynamos were also making the firefight more difficult. The water-dropping planes and helicopters essential to taming and containing wildfires have been mostly grounded because it’s too dangerous to fly them in the strong winds. Tuesday saw gusts of over 50 mph.

Commanders hoped to have them back in the air Wednesday morning, but all indications were that the winds would be whipping then too, fanning the flames that spurred evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people, destroyed nearly 200 homes and remained mostly out control.

“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”

Southern California’s so-called Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.

The largest and most destructive of the fires, an 85-square-mile wildfire in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles inland a day earlier.

The wildfire jumped a major artery, U.S. Highway 101, to a rocky beach northwest of Ventura, bringing new evacuations, though officials said the sparse population and lack of vegetation in the area meant it wasn’t overly dangerous, and the highway wasn’t closed.

Still, caution was urged:

Use caution on U/S 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Fire is burning on both sides of the highway. Expect intermittent closures and/or CHP escorts through the area. 

The fire had destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds more homes have already been lost, though firefighters have been unable to assess them.

Lisa Kermode and her children returned to their home Tuesday after evacuating Monday to find their home and world in ashes, including a Christmas tree and the presents they had just bought.

“We got knots in our stomach coming back up here,” Kermode said. “We lost everything, everything, all our clothes, anything that was important to us. All our family heirlooms – it’s not sort of gone, it’s completely gone.”

But firefighters in Ventura were able to save a Christmas tree that had years of a family’s ornaments as their mansion burned, reports CBS Los Angeles.

Mansions and modest homes alike were in flames in the city. Dozens of houses in one neighborhood burned to the ground.

John Keasler, 65, and his wife Linda raced out of their apartment building as the flames approached, then stood and watched the fire burn it to the ground.

“It is sad,” Keasler said. “We loved this place. We lost everything.”

Linda Keasler said they were just glad to be alive despite losing so much.

“Those things we can always get back,” she said. “The truth is it is just things and thank god no one died.”

Some 12,000 structures were under threat.

A spokesman for the American Red Cross said they expected a shelter in Ventura County to be at capacity Tuesday night.

Fred Mariscal says Red Cross officials expected about 400 people at the shelter Tuesday night.

He said the shelter was serving meals, providing a mobile shower truck and had doctors and nurses on hand to provide medication for residents who were displaced by the wildfire.

The burnt remains of an automobile is seen at the Hawaiian Village apartments after a wind-driven wildfire swept into the city of Ventura

Burned remains of car are seen at Hawaiian Village apartments after wind-driven wildfire swept into Ventura, California on December 5, 2017

 MIKE BLAKE / REUTERS

While the blazes brought echoes of the firestorm in Northern California that killed 44 people two months ago, no deaths and only a handful of injuries had been reported.

In the foothills of northern Los Angeles, 30 structures burned. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the gusty winds expected to last most of the week had created a dangerous situation and he urged 150,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders to leave their homes before it’s too late.

“We have lost structures, we have not lost lives,” he said. “Do not wait. Leave your homes.”

Fires aren’t typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region over the past six months.

Fires in suburban settings like these are likely to become more frequent as climate change makes fire season a year-round threat and will put greater pressure on local budgets, said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College who has written extensively about wildfires.

“There are going to be far greater numbers that are going to be evacuated, as we’re seeing now,” Miller said. “These fires are not just fast and furious, but they’re really expensive to fight.”

In LA County, television shows with large outdoor sets including HBO’s “Westworld” and CBS’s “S.W.A.T.” halted production of because of worries about the safety of cast and crew.

And the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, which hold workouts near the Ventura County fire, canceled practice Wednesday.

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