Southern California wildfires did more than destroy homes. They disrupted business, freeways, schools

Southern California wildfires did more than destroy homes. They disrupted business, freeways, schools

06 Decemebr 2017

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USA – The fast-moving, unpredictable brush fires that have swept through Southern California are disrupting businesses, people commuting to those workplaces and virtually everything else in their path.

Few businesses have been as impacted as the ones that line Rye Canyon Loop in the Southern California Innovation Park in Santa Clarita. That area was virtually ground zero for the Rye Fire that has already chewed its way through 7,000 acres of dry and brittle brush.

Business disruptions

“We showed up for work around 10 in the morning on Tuesday, but everyone started evacuating not long after we got there,” said Bree Sanchez, client care manager for Data MicroImaging Co. The company’s services include scanning, document and data conversion, software retrieval and cloud storage.

“The smoke was pretty intense,” the 24-year-old Sylmar resident said. “It was black when it started, but when they started putting it out it was white. It was foggy on the freeway as everyone was leaving.”

Aqua-Tech Water Management, another tenant of the business park, found itself in the same boat.

“We opened at 8 in the morning and had been working for a couple of hours when I noticed police cars outside and lots of cars leaving,” said Allison McKinley, an administrative assistant with the company. “I walked outside and saw a couple of areas of fire on the nearby hillside. It was kind of in the distance but close enough to be concerning. I called property management and they said the entire business park was being evacuated.”

Aqua-Tech services cooling towers for businesses that need to regulate their air-conditioning systems.

“Our technicians mainly work in Los Angeles and in Riverside County, so they were still able to get some work done,” McKinley said. “But we couldn’t be here at the office to answer emails or make phone calls.”

Lisa Capella, the park’s property manager, said Los Angeles County firefighters and sheriff’s deputies were instrumental in bringing order the chaos.

“County fire did an outstanding job,” she said. “If you look at the back perimeter of our property it’s scorched all the way up to our parking lot, but it doesn’t go beyond that point. We didn’t have any property damage and they arrived here within minutes of my call. There were about eight fire trucks here.”

Southern California Innovation Park has since reopened.

In Ventura, two buildings on the Vista del Mar Hospital burned Tuesday at flames tore through the nearby canyons above the city.

Freeway closures

Getting to work was tough, too. Southland freeways have been heavily impacted by the fires, especially during peak commuter periods.

Until early afternoon Wednesday, it was feared that the 405 northbound would remain closed during rush hour.

Marc Bischoff, a Los Angeles-based spokesman for the California Department of Transportation, was recommending that commuters who needed to go from the Westside to the San Fernando Valley take Pacific Coast Highway north and then Topanga Canyon, Malibu Canyon or Kanan Dume Road to the 101 Freeway.

Tischoff said they could also take Coldwater Canyon, Laurel Canyon or Beverly Glen through the canyons to the 101 Freeway, although those routes could still be impacted by the fire. But one thing is clear: The earlier a motorist can set out, the better.

“I think people in Southern California are savvy enough to know if the 405 is closed, to plan ahead,” Bischoff said.

Bischoff noted that even when the 405 is open it’s one of the heaviest-traveled freeways in Southern California.

“It’s best to avoid it,” said Bischoff, who lives in Simi Valley. “I take the train.”

Skirball Cultural Center closed

Late Wednesday, a Caltrans freeway map showed several additional freeway lane closures and onramp and offramp closures along the 210 and 101 freeways that were in place as a result of fire operations. And the fires were still raging.

Fueled by powerful Santa Ana winds, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County has destroyed hundreds of structures and burned more than 60,000 acres. The Creek Fire in Sylmar has burned more than 11,000 acres and damaged dozens of structures, and a newer Skirball Fire in the Sepulveda Pass near the Getty Center and Skirball Cultural Center has damaged some homes in the area. The blazes have also prompted thousands of evacuations.

On Wednesday Skirball posted a notice on its website advising people that the center is closed.

“Due to the brushfire in the vicinity, the Skirball Cultural Center — including all administrative offices, the Museum, Noah’s Ark, Audrey’s Museum Store, and Zeidler’s Café — will be closed today on Wednesday, December 6, until further notice,” the notice said. “Please note that although the fire has been dubbed the ‘Skirball Fire’ by the media, the Skirball campus is currently safe.”

The nearby Getty Center also closed for the day in response to the fire.

School operations affected

Hundreds of schools throughout the Southland were closed Wednesday as district officials weighed the impacts of smoke, fire operations and freeway congestion. All schools in the San Fernando Valley and 17 affected by the Skirball Fire will be closed Thursday and Friday, officials said.

Southern California Edison damage assessment teams and crews were out Wednesday working with first responders to see when they could safely enter devastated areas to identify the extent of fire damage and begin making repairs.

Transmission lines will continue to be threatened as fires burn along the transmission path, possibly causing additional interruptions, the utility said. A local transmission emergency was declared by the California Independent System Operator due to the loss of critical transmission lines serving the Ventura and Santa Barbara area, and the system operator has requested additional generation units to support restoration of power for the impacted area.

“Power outages and intermittent service interruptions will continue for customers as the fires burn and impact our facilities,” Paul Grigaux, incident commander and SCE vice president of transmission, substations and operations, said in a statement. “Due to the fires, the system could face additional strain and we are asking customers to conserve energy.”

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