By Nathan Solis, Courthouse News
LOS ANGELES (CN) – A fourth wildfire broke out in Southern California overnight Wednesday, closing a portion of the 405 Freeway in the ritzy neighborhood of Bel Air and forcing residents from their homes.
The Skirball Fire flared up early Wednesday morning at 4:52 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department, and is burning in steep terrain near the Getty Center art museum. The blaze is one of several brush fires fanned by strong Santa Ana winds in Southern California this week.
Mandatory evacuations were issued at 7:30 a.m. by emergency personnel for neighborhoods south of Mulholland Drive and east of the 405 Freeway, one of the most-used stretches of highway in the nation. By daylight, it had burned 150 acres in the Sepulveda Pass, according to the Los Angele Fire Department’s spokesman Brian Humphrey.
The last major fire to burn in the area was the 1961 Bel Air Fire, according to Humphrey. The fire, also fueled by strong Santa Ana winds, burned over 16,000 acres and destroyed 484 homes.
The Getty Center reported on social media Wednesday morning that its campus is closed and the fire is southeast of the center.
“Air filtration systems are protecting the galleries from smoke. We continue to monitor the situation and will issue updates as we have them,” the center said in the post.
The National Weather Service has issued red-flag warnings through Friday for Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with wind gusts of 45 to 65 mph expected Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
Fire officials at a press conference with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday morning said the Skirball Fire was zero percent contained and had destroyed four homes.
On Wednesday afternoon, Garcetti declared a local state of emergency for Bel-Air, a day after issuing a similar action for the Creek Fire burning in Sylmar, 20 miles north of Bel Air.
The Creek Fire has burned 11,377 acres as of Wednesday morning and is zero percent contained. It has destroyed about 30 structures but no deaths have been reported, according to the fire department. Three firefighters sustained injuries, however, and were treated at local hospitals.
Over 400 firefighters battled the Creek Fire as of Wednesday afternoon.
In nearby Santa Clarita, the Rye Fire has burned 7,000 acres.
But the largest wildfire currently ravaging Southern California, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, has burned 65,000 acres and is also zero percent contained. The blaze started north of the Santa Paula area Monday evening and burned into the Ventura City limits Tuesday afternoon, prompting mandatory evacuations.
Residents in Ventura County who have not been evacuated need to boil their drinking water due to a loss of water pressure, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
Ventura County, and the cities of Santa Paula and Ventura have all declared local emergencies. On Tuesday, Garcetti declared a local emergency for Sylmar and Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency for Ventura County; he is expected to do the same for the other affected areas soon.
As many as 200,000 Southern California residents have received evacuation orders.
Back in LA County, sheriff’s department officers are working with local fire officials to help residents impacted by the fires there, helping with both evacuations and protecting areas that have been evacuated.
The Sheriff’s Office says residents in affected areas should be ready to leave. That includes preparing identification, medicine, food, water and important documents, along with emergency supplies, change of clothes and other necessities.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office issued a consumer warning to residents in Ventura and Los Angeles counties to be on the lookout for price gouging.
“Our state’s price-gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on housing, gas, food and other essential supplies,” Becerra said.