New blaze erupts in wildfire-plagued Southern California
VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — A dramatic new wildfire erupted in Los Angeles early Wednesday as firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California.
Flames exploded before dawn on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, which carries heavily traveled Interstate 405 through the Santa Monica Mountains where ridge tops are covered with expensive homes.
Firefighters were providing structure protection as helicopters flying in darkness made water drops on the flames on the east side of the pass. Northbound traffic was halted, but southbound lanes remained open.
Hundreds of homes burned in the area during the famous Bel Air Fire of 1961. The Getty Center art complex, on the west side of the pass, employs extensive fire protection methods.
Elsewhere, use of firefighting aircraft has been constrained by the same winds that have spread the fires.
The water-dropping planes and helicopters essential to taming and containing wildfires have been mostly grounded because it’s too dangerous to fly them in the strong wind. Tuesday saw gusts of over 50 mph (80 kph).
Commanders hoped to have them back in the air on Wednesday morning, but all indications were that the winds will be whipping then too, fanning the flames that spurred evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people, destroyed nearly 200 homes and remained mostly out control.
“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”
Southern California’s Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.
The largest and most destructive of the fires, an 85-square-mile (220-sq. kilometer) wildfire in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles (48 kilometers) inland a day earlier.
The wildfire jumped the major artery U.S. Highway 101 to a rocky beach northwest of Ventura, bringing new evacuations, though officials said the sparse population and lack of vegetation in the area meant it was not overly dangerous, and the highway was not closed.
The fire had destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds more homes have already been lost, though firefighters have been unable to assess them.