Recovery

Trump Approves California Disaster Declaration as Firefighters Battle Flames in Ventura and San Diego Counties

The fires destroyed more than 500 structures, sent more than 120,000 people fleeing for their lives.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove and Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times / December 8, 2017

(TNS) - Wildfires fanned by sustained Santa Ana winds continued to wreak havoc across Southern California on Friday as blazes in San Diego and Ventura counties destroyed more than 500 structures, sent more than 120,000 people fleeing for their lives and left thousands without power.

In northern San Diego County, the Lilac fire continued to burn Friday morning, holding at 4,100 acres from the night before. The blaze, which roared through Bonsall and into Oceanside late Thursday, has injured at least three people and killed 25 horses at a thoroughbred training center.

“We are in no way near the end of this,” warned Ron Lane, the county's deputy chief administrative officer who oversees public safety. On Friday morning, Cal Fire said the wildfire had burned 4,100 acres and destroyed 65 structures.

President Trump approved a California disaster declaration Friday morning. He ordered federal aid to the area and put the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of disaster relief efforts.

The Lilac fire is one of a half-dozen major fires burning across Ventura, San Diego, Los Angeles and Riverside counties, and comes as the National Weather Service extended a red-flag fire warning to Sunday.

Of all those fires, the Thomas fire in Ventura County is still the largest, spanning 132,000 acres from Santa Paula to the coast. It was 10% contained as of Friday morning, authorities said.

The winds Thursday night were “down into the teens and 20s as opposed to previous nights we had winds in the 30- and 40-mile-per-hour” range, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Scott Dettorre. Weaker winds are expected to continue Friday, he said.

“It’s still high but for us at this point, that’s a breeze,” Dettorre said.

If winds do act as predicted, “our air operations will be more effective and obviously the fire spread rate will slow down,” he added. “It’ll give the ground troops a chance to get ahead of this thing.”

Throughout the county, 439 structures were destroyed — 427 of those were in the city of Ventura, Dettorre said.

Officials still have not identified or reported a cause of death for a woman who was found in the Thomas fire burn area, at the scene of a car accident.

The Thomas fire is mostly burning at either end of the perimeter, Dettorre said. Northeast Santa Ana winds continued pushing flames west toward the La Conchita area, while topography is offering fuel to the fire on the eastern end, Dettorre said. The fire has already encroached into the Los Padres National Forest above Ojai, and could do the same on the eastern end near Fillmore, he said.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department officials said the Thomas fire had not reached their county as of Thursday evening, but added that residents should remain prepared in case it does.

The air quality in Carpinteria is considered "hazardous,” said Polly Baldwin, medical director at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

“Hazardous is the worst classification that air quality has,” she said, urging residents to wear face masks when outside.

By midnight Thursday, San Diego County county officials confirmed that they had called more than 100,000 phone numbers to issue evacuation orders or warnings through AlertSanDiego, a regional notification system.

As of about 12:30 a.m. Friday, approximately 578 people had checked into evacuations centers, a county spokeswoman said.

As night fell, a shopping center was being consumed by the blaze.

At the Rancho Monserate Country Club, a swath of upscale mobile homes bordering a golf course had already been reduced to ash and twisted metal.

In Los Angeles County, firefighters on Thursday night took advantage of the calmest winds they’ve seen in days.

The 15,323-acre Creek fire near Sylmar was 40% contained as of Friday morning, and no more structures were threatened, authorities said.

At least 63 homes and other structures have been destroyed and an additional 45 damaged, though officials expect that number to increase as damage assessment crews continue to survey the area, said L.A. City Fire Capt. Branden Silverman.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, residents were allowed back into their neighborhoods, except Limekiln Canyon, Silverman said.

The Skirball fire in the Los Angels neighborhood of Bel Air was 30% contained and at 475 acres as of Thursday night, said, Los Angeles City Fire Capt. Cody Weireter. Six homes have been destroyed and a dozen damaged in the fire, authorities said. Some residents have been allowed back into their homes.

On Thursday night and Friday morning, “they had flareups here and there … but they were able to quickly extinguish them and knock those down,” Weireter said.

As of Friday morning, the Liberty fire in Murrieta was at 300 acres and 60% contained. One structure and seven outbuildings were destroyed, authorities said.

On Friday morning, Southern California Edison said that more than 11,000 of its customers were without power due to fires throughout the region.

Staff writers Joseph Serna and Laura Nelson contributed to this report. The San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.

Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com

Twitter: @Sonali_Kohli.


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