Firefighters worked through the night to protect homes in the path of a fast-moving wildfire that tore through hillside brush in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, riding strong wind gusts through neighborhoods and across a major Southern California freeway.
The Woolsey fire forced evacuations in communities northwest of Los Angeles after it began Thursday afternoon amid warm, dry and windy conditions. The fire is threatening about 30,000 homes Friday morning as strong winds cast embers that ignited smaller spot fires and pushed the fire across the 101 Freeway in the Agoura Hills area.
Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Friday due to the destructive Woolsey Fire and nearby Hill Fire. A state of emergency was declared Thursday for the monster Camp Fire in Northern California.
Evacuations were ordered Friday morning for parts of Malibu south of the 101 Freeway.
“The wind-whipped conditions … this is ripe conditions for explosive fire behavior,” said LAFD Capt. Erik Scott. “This is the new normal. When we have conditions like this, when it’s such incredible wind, that brings us in to a different caliber, so it’s become a much more challenging condition.”
A Los Angeles County Fire Department battalion chief told NBC4 the flames could burn “for days.”
Early Friday, the Woolsey fire burned 10,000 acres, was zero percent contained and damaged multiple structures. About 75,000 homes in the two counties are under evacuation orders, according to Los Angeles County Fire.
Many homes have been destroyed, but firefighters did not have a firm number Friday morning as wind continued to push flames toward the south.
“The winds haven’t died down, and that’s unfortunate,” said NBC4 forecaster Shanna Mendiola. “Winds are gusting anywhere between 40 to 50 mph, strong enough to carry theses embers. We do expect these winds to die down, but not completely go away.”
The fires burned in a community that was already reeling from a mass shootingthat left 12 victims dead Wednesday night at a Thousand Oaks bar. The Thousand Oaks Teen Center was a family unification center Thursday, a place where families anxiously waited for updates on loved ones who were at the Borderline Bar. On Friday, the center was an evacuation center for people fleeing the fire.
“I think a lot of people should realize this is what your valuable life leads to,” said a man from Ventura County as he pointed at his truck. “Plastic bags on the back of your pick-up truck.”
Along with assisting the growth of the fire, the high winds also deterred air support in battling the flames.
The Woolsey Fire was first reported around 3:30 p.m. and by 4:45 p.m. It started east of Chatsworth near a former Rocketdyne facility.
The Hill Fire burned just five miles away in Newbury Park, forcing more than 1,200 homes to evacuate and prompting the closure of the 101 Freeway. For coverage of that fire, click here.
Fall is historically one of the most dangerous times of the year for wildfires in California. Seven of the state’s 10-most destructive wildfires occurred in October — many fueled by monster winds, including Santa Ana gusts.
Through Nov. 4, Cal Fire has reported about 5,600 fires that burned more than 621,700 acres. During that same period last year, the agency reported 5,800 fire that burned 316,600 acres. Over the last five years, California has averaged 5,293 fires that burned 231,400 acres during that interval.