Most destructive Calif. wildfire eyes communities northwest of L.A.

FAN Editor

Flames from the largest and most destructive Southern California wildfire, known as the Thomas Fire, churned toward coastal and mountain communities northwest of Los Angeles on Thursday, disrupting travel on a major highway and triggering more evacuations.

A wind forecast called for potentially dangerous gusts, but ones not likely to approach historic levels forecasters had feared, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is good news for the fire crews as the winds will not be driven quite as vigorously,” a weather service statement said.

Southern California has been hit hard by four major fires that have put tens of thousands of people under evacuation orders and destroyed nearly 200 homes and buildings, a figure that is almost certain to grow.

Follow along below for live updates on the fires. All times are Eastern unless otherwise noted.


2:38 p.m.: Creek Fire scorches more than 12,605 acres

Although they expect violent wind gusts, crews battling the Creek Fire in the hills above Sylmar will try to gain momentum Thursday against a wind-driven blaze that has destroyed or damaged at least 30 homes and threatened thousands of others, CBS Los Angeles reports.

The fire, which has scorched 12,605 acres, broke out at 3:42 a.m. Tuesday in the area of Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads in the Kagel Canyon area. More than 1,600 firefighters and other personnel were deployed against the fire, which was 10 percent contained as of Thursday.

Mandatory evacuations were in place Thursday for the areas north of the 210 Freeway, from Glenoaks Boulevard to Haines Canyon Avenue, as well as south of the 210 Freeway, west of Sunland Boulevard and Stonehurst Avenue, and north of La Tuna Canyon Road.

The communities of Kagel Canyon, Lakeview Terrace, Sunland, Sylmar, Pacoima, Lopez Canyon and Shadow Hills also were under evacuation orders.

Virginia Padilla, whose family owns a ranch in Sylmar, told reporters the fire killed at least 30 of the ranch’s horses. Padilla said she and her family were able to get out of her home just in time Tuesday morning but were not able to take their horses with them.

All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and some on the west side of Los Angeles — a total of 265 district schools and charter schools — were closed Thursday and Friday, district officials said. A full list of closed schools was available at lausd.net.  

An estimated 2,500 structures were threatened by the Creek Fire at one point, according to the U.S. Forest Service, which was fighting the blaze in a unified command with the Los Angeles city and county fire departments.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas warned that the battle was likely to continue until at least Friday.

The LAFD’s “brush burning index” that rates the fire danger was at 296 — “the highest number I’ve ever seen in my career,” according to Terrazas. He said the usual threshold for extreme fire conditions is 165.

2:25 p.m.: Skirball Fire burns at least 475 acres

The Skirball Fire in the Sepulveda Pass may be the smallest of the wildfires burning in Southern California, but it has had impact on one of the densest areas of Los Angeles, CBS Los Angeles reports.

The Skirball Fire has burned at least 475 acres and is 20 percent contained after the blaze broke out early Wednesday morning and destroyed at least four homes and damaged 12 others in short order. One firefighter was reported injured.

The fire was kept to the east side of the 405 Freeway, which was shut down on both sides at the peak of the morning commute, CBS Los Angeles reports. The freeway is the main artery between the bedroom communities of the San Fernando Valley and the corporate and commercial centers of West Los Angeles and beyond.  

The Getty Center and the nearby Skirball Center, both on the west side of the freeway, did not appear to be threatened, though both will remain closed Thursday.  

About 700 homes and an apartment building were evacuated. One elementary school was also evacuated, LAFD Deputy Chief Charles Butler said.

Fifty-two Los Angeles Unified School District schools and another 40 charter schools citywide will be closed amid smoky air through Friday in response to the Skirball Fire and other blazes in the area, a district official said.

Evacuation centers have been established at Delano Recreation Center, 15100 Erwin St., Van Nuys; Balboa RC, 17015 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys; Sherman Oaks RC, 14201 Huston St., Sherman Oaks; and Westwood RC, 1350 Sepulveda Blvd., Westwood.

2:00 p.m.: Body found after crash in fire evacuation zone

A sheriff’s official says a woman has been found dead after a car crash in an area under a mandatory evacuation order as the Thomas Fire raged in Southern California.

Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Donoghue tells The Associated Press that the woman’s body was found Wednesday night at the scene of a crash in the Wheeler Canyon area of Santa Paula.

Donoghue says the car was found off the roadway after what appeared to be a single-car crash. He says there were no witnesses to the crash, but no foul play is suspected.

Donoghue says investigators were still trying to determine if the death was connected to the wildfires or if the person was trying to evacuate from the area.

The woman’s name hasn’t been released and a cause of death is still being determined.

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