November 1, 2019 / 10:12 AM / 14 days ago

California makes headway against wildfires after fierce Santa Ana winds ease

LOS ANGELES, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Fierce, dry Santa Ana winds off the Southern California mountains eased early Friday, helping firefighters make progress in corralling major wildfires that have displaced thousands of residents.

A flurry of 25 mph wind gusts late Thursday triggered multiple smaller blazes that kept firefighters busy, with more homes torched and residents evacuated. But rescuers were grateful for the reduction in wind speeds from 80 mph that had fanned and spread the flames earlier in the week.

“We’re seeing a marked reduction in the wind speeds,” senior National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Burke at the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“We’ll see steady winds of 15-20 mph through Friday, so that still doesn’t help, but it’s way down from what it was. We’ll continue to see a marked reduction through the weekend. I’d say this wind event is about over.”

A fresh spate of wildfires roared to life on Thursday, destroying homes and forcing evacuations, before the Santa Ana winds lost their punch overnight.

But a fresh brush fire broke out atop South Mountain late Thursday in Ventura County, consuming more than more than 4,000 acres and destroying some buildings, and local media reported it had more than doubled in size by early Friday.

Among several new wind-driven fires erupted Thursday on the rugged slopes of the San Bernardino National Forest above the city of San Bernardino, barreling downhill into the north end of town.

The so-called Hillside fire quickly devoured more than 200 acres (80 hectares) of dry scrub and destroyed or damaged at least six homes before firefighters managed to keep the flames from advancing farther, fire officials said.

As of early afternoon, crews had managed to carve containment lines around 50% of the fire’s perimeter. No injuries were reported, but evacuation orders remained in effect for nearly 500 homes, displacing about 1,300 residents.

“TRAUMATIZING”

A fire that erupted early on Monday near the famed Getty Center art museum in west Los Angeles threatened thousands of homes in some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, but was largely suppressed by Thursday, with containment listed at 40%.

Residents were allowed to return to most of the 10,000 homes that had been ordered evacuated. The museum emerged unscathed, but about a dozen dwellings were lost in the 745-acre Getty fire and two firefighters were injured.

About 30 miles (48 km) to the northwest, a fire raged to the edge of the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Ventura County’s Simi Valley on Wednesday, threatening thousands of homes, but was 60 percent contained early on Friday.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co acknowledged last week that the Kincade fire, a blaze that charred 77,000 acres of Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco, started last week near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a high-voltage line on that tower malfunctioned.

That blaze has burned more than 77,700 acres and destroyed at least 349 homes and other structures, but was listed as 65% contained on Thursday evening.

PG&E, which over this past weekend began shutting off power to 940,000 California customers to guard against the risk of an electrical mishap sparking a blaze, said late on Thursday it had restored electricity to virtually all customers.

Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Culver City and Jonathan Allen in New York with additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Culver City and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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