USA – VENTURA, Calif. — Fires raged on in much of Southern California Friday, as fast-moving flames scorched more than 158,000 acres across four counties, blackening the air and forcing closures of schools and roadways.
In San Diego County, where a small grass fire that broke out Thursday morning had grown by night to 4,100 acres, residents near Bonsall and Oceanside scrambled to heed evacuation orders. At least six people were injured, and at least 65 structures destroyed.
Brian Jones, a concrete contractor from Bonsall, dropped off his horses at the county fairgrounds after fleeing his home. “I didn’t want to leave,” Jones said. And then the flames “started coming over the ridge, right at the edge of our development, and it was ‘Oh, boy — time to go.’”
Evacuation orders were lifted late Thursday in parts of Los Angeles and Riverside counties, but the situation remained dire in Ventura County, where 132,000 acres had burned and more than 400 structures were destroyed. That fire, just 10 percent contained, was spreading Friday and threatening buildings in Carpinteria, Ojai, Santa Paula and Ventura.
“This fire just keeps on going on us,” said Capt. Israel Pinzon, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Here’s the latest:
— President Donald Trump on Friday declared an emergency in California and ordered additional federal aid. His declaration, which Gov. Jerry Brown had requested, allows federal agencies to coordinate the relief efforts.
— A fire near Murrieta, in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, has burned about 300 acres. Seven buildings were destroyed, officials said, and the fire was 60 percent contained.
— The threat was so severe that for the first time, state officials used the highest category in their color-coded fire hazard warning system. They painted much of Southern California purple on Thursday, for extreme danger, and many people received warnings to be ready to flee.
— Some residents who were forced to evacuate their homes because of the fires in the San Fernando Valley and in Bel-Air were told they could return Thursday night.
— Eric M. Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, said late Thursday that he was not aware of any deaths connected to the Los Angeles fires.
An official warns of a ‘very dangerous’ time in San Diego County.
The fire near Bonsall in San Diego County ignited Thursday and within hours spread to more than 4,000 acres with zero containment.
Many parts of the Bonsall area, which is known for its equestrian facilities, were under evacuation orders, and officials encouraged residents with livestock to take their animals to the county fairgrounds.
Around 25 racehorses died Thursday as flames engulfed the barns at a training center that houses about 500 horses, state officials said.
The California Horse Racing Board said in statement that workers “risked their lives in efforts to free the horses,” and that many of the animals had been ushered to safer land or taken to shelter at a nearby racetrack. Other horses remained unaccounted for Friday.
Ron Lane, San Diego County’s deputy chief administrative officer, said a large portion of a mobile home park had been destroyed, along with other houses in the Bonsall area.
“This is a very dangerous period of time we’re going through in the County of San Diego over the next 24, 48 hours,” Lane said. “We have to be resilient.”
‘They are surrounded by fire’ in Ojai.
The largest fire in Southern California has spread northwest in Ventura County as authorities extended a “red flag” warning through the weekend, a forecast of continued high winds that have made the fire difficult to control.
The fire, which on Friday morning blanketed Ventura in thick smoke, was 10 percent contained Friday, up from 5 percent on Thursday.
Fires overnight devoured hillsides around Ojai, the small inland city dotted with villas and known for its music festival. Fire crews worked through the night in the steep, forested hills of the Ojai valley amid gusty winds.
“They are surrounded by fire,” Pinzon said of Ojai.
In Bel-Air, a chance to return home.
By Thursday night, several top local and state officials said they were encouraged by improving conditions in the city and county of Los Angeles. And as a result, officials announced that some Angelenos would be allowed to return home starting Thursday evening.
The focus in the Bel-Air hills had turned to digging out burning embers and cooling down any hot spots that could easily ignite. It was easy to see how quickly the neighborhood could go up in flames: sprawling estates on narrow streets were surrounded by towering elms and bitterly dry pine needles. Blackened embers of tree trunks had tumbled down — one had hit a firefighter and burned him around the neck.
Many of the towering iron gates that guard the mansions had been broken open by firefighters who needed to get to the slopes burning below. Some driveways were covered with splatters of pink from the fire retardant that had been dumped from aircraft above.
Capt. Brian Ferreira, a firefighter from Oakland, had helped mop-up on a hillside near a winery owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. While small patches of the hillside and the wine storage had suffered some damage, most of the winery seemed fine, he said.
“Rupert will be glad to hear that, he paid a lot of money for that property,” said Hugh Siegman, 71, who lives just above the winery.
Siegman and his wife returned to their undamaged home Thursday morning, before the evacuation had been lifted. “I would rather be here and be vigilant myself and get these guys to help if they need it,” he said.
Traffic reporters take on a new role in Los Angeles.
As flames have ravaged Los Angeles, traffic reporters have emerged as lifelines through the chaos, stars in an urban, multi-fire battle that could compete with a disaster film plotline from a Hollywood studio. Their profession, sidelined in the age of apps and built-in navigation, is boosted by the thing technology still does not have — human judgment.
Reporters have spent days navigating people home and keeping them out of harm’s way, with guidance beyond the turn-by-turn. Where a road might appear open on an electronic map, it might in reality be under a miasma of smoke too painful for breathing. A side street may seem passable, but just out of sight, a fire could be barreling down.