December 6, 2017, 11:55 am
A thousand firefighters were battling a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California on Tuesday that has left at least one person dead, sent thousands fleeing, and destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses.
The Ventura County Fire Department said more than 27,000 people had been told to evacuate their homes as the fast-moving fire in the coastal county north of Los Angeles grew to 45,000 acres (18,200 hectares).
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over the area, announcing: “This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly.
“It’s critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so.”
Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told a news conference that the prospects for containment depended on improving weather conditions.
“Really, Mother Nature is going to decide when we have the ability to put it out,” he said.
The National Weather Service said easterly Santa Ana winds fueling the fire had registered gusts of up to 55 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) -- predicting they could hit upwards of 80 miles per hour into the afternoon.
“The fire is pushing quickly towards the city of Ventura,” Lorenzen said, and has reached the eastern city limits. The oceanside city has a population of around 100,000.
The fire chief said one death had been reported. “As the individual was evacuating from the fire, the car overturned,” he said.
Authorities said more than 1,000 firefighters were currently fighting the “Thomas Fire”-a blaze captured in apocalyptic images with flames sometimes taking on the appearance of a volcanic eruption.
“Fixed wing aircraft and helicopters are expected to attack the fire at daybreak,” the Ventura County website said.
Two other large blazes broke out Tuesday-the Creek Fire, which has so far swallowed 11,000 acres (around 4,500 hectares) and the more contained Rye fire, spread over 1,000 acres.
The NWS put a “red flag” warning into effect for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Thursday, saying the coming days would likely see “the strongest and longest duration Santa Ana wind event we have seen so far this season.”