Nine dead as fires devastate California, over 250,000 people under evacuation order; Malibu threatened

More than 250,000 people in California were under evacuation orders statewide as of Friday evening due to growing wind-whipped fires which have burned over 6,600 homes and led to at least nine fatalities, according to officials.

There are at least three major wildfires burning in California, stretching California’s firefighting resources thin and leading authorities on Friday to ask for help from several Western states. One of the fires devastated communities in Ventura County and as of Friday afternoon was burning out of control and destroying multiple structures in the Calabasas and Malibu areas of Los Angeles County.

“Weather-wise we are literally in a statewide ‘red flag’ weather warning,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services. “Fire weather conditions are extreme. We are literally seeing it from border to border.”

Over 250,000 people are under evacuation orders in Southern California, mostly from the so-called Woolsey fire. Another 52,000 people are under evacuation in Northern California’s Butte County from a blaze authorities have dubbed the Camp fire, which is blamed for the loss of more than 6,000 homes and nine fatalities.

Authorities estimate the Woosley blaze destroyed approximately 150 homes. However, those numbers were expected to grow as the massive fire continues to rage with zero containment.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office reported late Friday two bodies were found in the Malibu area, although the agency couldn’t immediately confirm the fatalities were due to the fire.

The entire city of Malibu was under mandatory evacuation Friday as flames threatened nearby homes and other structures. After burning homes in Bell Canyon, Oak Park and Thousand Oaks, the fire crossed the 101 Freeway from the Ventura County line on Friday morning and within hours led to the evacuation of the entire city of Malibu, where many celebrities have homes.

Cher was one of the celebrities who tweeted about her home being in harm’s way. Actor Orlando Bloom also posted on Instagram about the blaze being near his residence.

Evacuations remained in effect in several Ventura County communities as of Friday evening, including portions of Westlake Village, Hidden Hills, Calabasas, Oak Park, Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills.

The fast-spreading Woolsey fire is believed to have started Thursday afternoon in eastern Ventura County near the former Rocketdyne research facility in the Santa Susana Pass. The blaze spread into the nearby Bell Canyon area and then wind gusts of up to 60 mph pushed it into Agoura Hills, Oak Park and Thousand Oaks

Homes in the West Hills area area of the city of LA were threatened Friday evening as flames came down from the canyons and wind gusts spread embers.

The Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, a Western-style town where many television shows and movies have been filmed over the decades, was reported to be lost Friday.

“We now we have a number of structures that were lost during the firefight overnight,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told reporters Friday during a briefing. “Fortunately there have not been any civilian fatalities as a result of lack of evacuations.”

Several large air tankers and copters were helping battle the Woolsey fire, dropping fire retardant or water to slow or stop the spread of flames. There was video posted on Twitter showing a firefighter helicopter picking up water from a private swimming pool in LA County to fight the blaze.

Lorenzen said there were “hundreds of firefighters” assigned to the Woolsey fire and more crews on the way to battle the menacing blaze.

The Woolsey fire exploded to an estimated 35,000 acres Friday afternoon, or more than double the amount it stood at in the morning. Another 6,100 acres were charred from the so-called Hill fire near Thousand Oaks. The Hill fire is burning into the footprint of the Springs fire of 2013, causing it to slow, according to Lorenzen.

As a result of the Hill and Woolsey fires, California’s acting Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Friday for Los Angeles and Ventura counties. It follows Newsom declaring an emergency proclamation on Thursday for Butte County in Northern California due to the so-called Camp fire, which has led the evacuation of about 52,000 people and devastated the community of Paradise.

Newsom announced late Friday that the White House approved a federal presidential emergency declaration for three counties affected by major wildfires, Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. It will speed up federal assistance, including air assets to help with the fires as well as shelter supplies and water for evacuated residents.

“California is appreciative for the timely response, which will help emergency responders in their heroic efforts to protect Californians and their communities,” said Newsom in a statement.

Statewide, more than 100,000 homes or structures are threatened.

Ghilarducci, the state emergency official, said at a news briefing Friday that the Butte County blaze is “an extremely challenging fire and has resulted in significant and catastrophic loss,” especially to the community of Paradise located just outside Chico.

As of Friday evening, a total of 6,713 homes or structures were reported destroyed in Butte County’s Camp fire, including 6,453 single-family homes and another 260 commercial structures, according to authorities.

According to the Butte County Sheriff’s office, a total of nine fatalities have been linked to the Camp fire, including five victims in the Paradise area Thursday. A preliminary investigation by the local agency revealed they were overcome by the fast-moving fire.

At a briefing Friday evening, local law enforcement officials announced an additional four deaths due to the Camp fire, including three people found outside of residences and another person found deceased inside a home. There also are 35 official missing person reports, according to the sheriff’s office.

More than 90,000 acres have burned in the Camp fire, according to Cal Fire. The agency reported that more than 3,200 firefighting personnel were battling the blaze and were assisted by at least 18 aircraft. The fire is located about 90 miles north of Sacramento.

The Butte County fire started Thursday morning and quickly spread due to strong winds, according to authorities. The source of the fire remains under investigation.

At least 52,000 people are under evacuation orders due to the Northern California fire, which was 5 percent contained as of Friday evening.

The wildfire burning in Butte County was on full display in a satellite photo released Friday by NASA. It captured the dramatic view of the blaze threatening several towns.

At the same time, there are smaller wildfires burning in Northern California, including a blaze north of Santa Cruz. There’s also been wildfires reported in Fresno, Mendocino and Solano counties.

According to Ghilarducci, California has requested additional firefighting resources from other Western states, including Oregon, Arizona, Washington, New Mexico and Wyoming.

“We are not just responding to what’s in front of us,” the state official said, “but we’re also contemplating what the next 24 and 48 hours are going to look like. We know that the winds will die down, but then we’re going to be picking up another wind event that will be starting late Sunday and going into early next week.”

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