Recovery

Firefighters Worry as Wind Threatens to Feed Woolsey Blaze in Southern California

'Maybe 10 or 20 years ago you stayed in your homes when there was a fire and you were able to protect them,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “We’re entering a new normal. Things are not the way they were 10 years ago.'

by James Queally and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times / November 11, 2018

(TNS) — A forecast that includes several days of gusting Santa Ana winds has fire officials worried about the possible spread of the 83,000-acre Woolsey fire straddling Ventura and Los Angeles counties, officials said Sunday.

The fire, which has killed two people and forced more than 250,000 from their homes, was 10 percent contained as of Sunday morning.

But expected wind gusts of 40 mph or stronger over the next several days have officials concerned that the fire could spread quickly, and urged residents who were still home to leave immediately.

“Maybe 10 or 20 years ago you stayed in your homes when there was a fire and you were able to protect them,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “We’re entering a new normal. Things are not the way they were 10 years ago.”

The fire had burned 83,275 acres as of Sunday morning, 177 buildings had been destroyed, and roughly 57,000 structures were threatened, fire officials said. The coming wind gusts could also severely reduce the effectiveness of aerial water and retardant drops, leaving firefighters to battle the flames solely from the ground, officials said.

Several parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, including Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Hidden Hills, and sections of West Hills, Monte Nido, Gated Oaks and Topanga, remained under evacuation order Sunday morning, officials said. Residents of Topanga Canyon were also advised to flee the area.

“This is the time to leave,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Chief John Benedict.

Evacuation orders in some parts of Ventura County, including Camarillo Springs and sections of Newbury Park, were been lifted, according to Sgt. Eric Buschow, a Ventura County Sheriff’s Department spokesman. Homes were also being threatened early Sunday in the West Hills neighborhood at the western edge of the San Fernando Valley.

Two fatalities were reported Friday afternoon in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway in Malibu, according to L.A. County sheriff’s officials. The bodies of two individuals were “severely burned inside of a stopped vehicle located on a long residential driveway,” authorities said.

Malibu City Councilman Jefferson Wagner also suffered serious injuries while trying to protect his home from the fire, according to another city councilman, Skylar Peak.

Wagner was hospitalized with injuries related to smoke inhalation sometime Friday after he ignored an evacuation order and tried to fend off flames at a house he owned in Latigo Canyon, Peak said.

Peak said Wagner’s wife told him late Saturday night that the well-known surf shop owner was placed in an intensive care unit at a local hospital, but he is expected to survive. Wagner’s house was destroyed, Peak said.

From Saturday night into Sunday morning, firefighters were able to increase containment and battle back against hot spots flaring up in several areas, said Daryl Osby, the Los Angeles County Fire Department chief. But with strong wind gusts forecast through Tuesday, Osby said he is concerned that the fire could prove much more dangerous in the days ahead.

“There’s a lot of fuel that has not burned,” Osby said. “Your home can be rebuilt. We can’t bring your life back.”

Wildfires across California have scorched nearly 200,000 acres and killed 25 people in total, according to fire officials. The Camp fire in Butte County has killed at least 23 people and all but destroyed the city of Paradise.

With destructive fires burning in both the northern and southern parts of the state, Gov. Jerry Brown requested a presidential disaster declaration early Sunday morning.

“We have the best firefighters and first responders in the country working in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. We’re putting everything we’ve got into the fight against these fires and this request ensures communities on the front lines get additional federal aid,” Brown said in a statement. “To those who have lost friends and family members, homes and businesses, know that the entire state is with you. As Californians, we are strong and resilient, and together we will recover.”

Law enforcement officials in Ventura and Los Angeles counties also said there were reports of looting in some of the fire areas. Sgt. Eric Buschow, a Ventura County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said deputies were aware of at least three incidents of people perusing the outsides of evacuated homes with the intention of looting.

Opportunistic burglars can be helped by detailed maps of mandatory evacuation sites online, which are frequently published during a disaster.

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