The Santa Ana are kicking up firestorms across Southern California once again and the L.A. Times reports, “thousands of Southern California homes could be at risk in coming days as powerful Santa Ana winds continue to stoke wildfires.”
Blazes on Sunday scorched thousands of acres from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara County, destroyed at least 39 homes and other buildings and killed at least one person.
Some of the worst devastation has been in and around Malibu, where the losses included two beloved landmarks; in San Diego, where at least one person died and 14 were injured; and in the communities of Agua Dulce and Canyon Country, midway between Santa Clarita and Palmdale. At least 25 buildings there were destroyed and 3,800 remained threatened by a rapidly moving blaze driven by winds gusting to 80 mph. At least four people were reported injured, one severely.
In all, more than a dozen fires raged across the region, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes. At least five firefighters were injured. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the affected areas.
It was not clear what caused most of the fires, but officials said downed power lines might be to blame for the Malibu and Agua Dulce blazes.
The Malibu fire, which had burned more than 2,200 acres, receded Sunday evening as winds died down there, but fire officials warned that it remained uncontained. “This fire is not over,” Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said in a briefing at a command center in Malibu. “We’re a long way from there at this point.” Firefighters probably would not be able to contain the fire before Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.
The fires around the region were stoked by Santa Ana winds that peaked at hurricane strength. They were fueled by brush and timber that flourished during the wet winter of 2004-05 then was seared by a record drought over the last year.
“This was a conflagration that we knew was coming at some point,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. “We were cruising for a bruising.”
The National Weather Service issued a high-wind warning through Tuesday afternoon, and forecasters warned that wind speeds today could surpass those of Sunday. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca estimated that the fires would last five days.
The South Coast Air Quality District issued a warning that air quality in portions of Los Angeles County could reach unhealthful levels because of the fires and urged residents to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities in smoky areas.
Roughly 1,400 firefighters from throughout California were battling the Malibu blaze.
Late Sunday afternoon when I was driving through the eastside of the San Fernando Valley, the western sky was aglow with a wash of orange and gray as the smoke drifted into the Valley. The winds have been incredibly strong in my area, tearing dried palm fronds off the trees and at one point on Saturday it was difficult to get out of my car, the winds were so strong.
L.A. Observed has more.