After destroying hundreds of buildings and forcing the evacuations of more than 200,000 people, the seven discrete wildfires ravaging Southern California finally receded over the weekend as the powerful Santa Ana winds that had fanned the flames earlier in the week died down. But firefighters early Sunday warned that the battle is far from over, as the progress made in containing the flames might soon be undone when the powerful Santa Aana winds return on Sunday.
So far, at least one person has been killed in the fires, Reuters reported – leaving the death toll far below the more than 40 people killed in the NorCal fires two months ago.
California Gov. Jerry Brown
Firefighters initially struggled to contain the blazes – which first sprung to life late Monday – as the winds picked up, reaching speeds of 80 mph in some areas, fast enough to qualify as hurricane force.
Progress on Saturiday was slow even as the winds abated. Still, the largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, has blackened 155,000 acres in Ventura County and was 15% contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in a statement on Saturday night.
#ThomasFire [update] Hwy 150 and Hwy 126, north of Santa Paula (Ventura County) is now 155,000 acres and 15% contained. Unified Command: CAL FIRE, Ventura County Fire, Los Padres National Forest and Ventura City Fire. https://t.co/vfLtDXYjzO pic.twitter.com/9mHNmSrKJl
— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) December 10, 2017
LATEST on California’s #ThomasFire, north of Los Angeles.
• 4,435 firefighters
• 242 square miles
• 15% contained
• 30 helicopters
• 611 fire engines
• 51 bulldozers
• 710 buildings destroyed
• 162 damaged
• 15,000 threatened
— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) December 10, 2017
Meanwhile, the Skirball Fire menacing Los Angeles was 75% contained on Saturday, while the Creek and Rye Fires in Los Angeles County were 80% and 65% contained.
Satellite images furnished a chilling overview of the flames ripping across the southern part of the state.
The winds and the hilly, rugged terrain in the southern part of America’s most populous state have also hampered firefighting efforts.
“The fire continues to threaten structures in various parts of the cities of Ventura, Ojai, Casitas Springs, Santa Paula, Carpinteria, Fillmore and the unincorporated areas of Ventura County and Matilija Canyon,” Cal Fire said in a Saturday night update on its web site.
Authorities also lifted evacuation orders on Saturday for sections of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
But the National Weather Service is forecasting top wind speeds to increase to 55 miles per hour on Sunday, up from the 40 miles per hour recorded on Saturday.
The blazes have destroyed nearly 800 structures, and a 70-year-old woman died Wednesday in a car accident as she attempted to flee the flames in Ventura County.
North of San Diego, the 4,100-acre Lilac Fire was 50% contained by Saturday, officials said.
A brush fire broke out Saturday night in the city of Monrovia in Los Angeles County, prompting temporary evacuations – including a group of Boy Scouts.
Firefighters beat back the 3-acre blaze and there were “no structures damaged,” the city of Monrovia said on its web site.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown has a sobering message for Southern Californians after a week of raging wildfires: This is your new normal.
Brown surveyed the damage in Ventura county on Saturday as 4,000 firefighters continued to fight the Thomas Fire, according to the BBC
Offering a grim outlook for the state’s future struggles with uncontrollable blazes, the governor told California residents to brace for these types of fires to become an annual occurrence.
"This is kind of the new normal," he said, adding that extreme fire activity will happen on a regular basis for decades.
"With climate change, some scientists are saying that Southern California is literally burning up," he said. "So we have to have the resources to combat the fires and we also have to invest in managing the vegetation and forests … in a place that's getting hotter."
Here’s a roundup of some of the latest developments as of Sunday morning, courtesy of CNN.
- Setbacks: A Red Flag Warning is in effect for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties until Sunday evening, the National Weather Service said. It means that critical fire weather conditions are expected due to a combination of gusty winds and low humidity.
- Progress: Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott said firefighters are making a lot of progress, but there's still much to be done. "We're far from being out of the woods on any of them," he said.
- Teamwork: Nearly 1,000 fire departments across California are involved in efforts to contain the blazes.
- More help: The White House has approved California's request for direct federal assistance. President Donald Trump ordered FEMA and Homeland Security to coordinate relief efforts in affected counties.