Over 100,000 Southern California residents were forced to evacuate on Friday as a pair of fast-moving fires tore through part of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The entire city of Malibu was under evacuation orders after officials said one of the blazes jumped Highway 101 and appeared headed straight for the Pacific Ocean. The cities of Hidden Hills, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Topanga were also under evacuation orders.
The blazes ― dubbed the Woolsey and Hill fires ― ignited Thursday evening and had spread to 35,000 and 6,100 acres, respectively, as of Friday evening, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Responders were making good process containing the Hill fire, said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen at a press conference on Friday. But he noted that the Woolsey fire was zero-percent contained so far, and growing.
Portions of Highways 101 and 1 were closed, causing gridlock along some evacuation routes.
Much of Southern California was under a red flag warning from the fires as gusty winds were expected to reach between 20 and 40 mph, and in some areas, up to 65 mph.
Fire officials said winds, low humidity, dry air and severely parched brush and ground from months without rain fueled the flames.
“The first part of this fuel bed had not seen fire for many years. Drought-stricken fuels, Santa Ana wind conditions, low relative humidity, high temperatures: It’s a recipe for fire,” said Ventura County Fire Department Assistant Chief Chad Cook on Friday.
Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D), California’s governor-elect, issued emergency proclamations and requested federal assistance, both for the Southern California blazes as well as the Camp fire burning in Northern California’s Butte County.
As of Friday, there were five fatalities from the Camp fire but no casualties reported in the Southern California blazes.
A teen center in Thousand Oaks that was used Thursday night as a family reunification center in the wake of the massacre at the city’s Borderline Bar & Grill turned into an evacuation center the following day as the community was hit by back-to-back disasters.
Roughly 75 percent of Thousand Oaks had evacuated on Friday evening, Mayor Andrew Fox said at Friday’s press briefing, which likely means some residents who were affected by the shooting were also forced to leave their homes due to the fire.
The recent fires are part of a growing trend of devastating, year-round blazes that officials say have become the “new normal” for California. In the last year, the state has witnessed some of the most destructive fires in its history.
Newsom has pledged to address the crisis in part by improving vegetation management and investing in new technologies to better predict and respond to wildfires.
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