The fiery destruction of Southern California grew to include the tony section of Bel Air Wednesday, as fire crews braced for the worst amid heavy Santa Ana winds.
The voracious wildfire, among the most destructive to hit the state, covered more than 140 miles and came close the world-famous Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Firefighters managed to halt the blaze that threatened the 475-acre Bel Air neighborhood — but at least four homes in the wealthy enclave suffered extensive damage, officials said.
About 700 homes, an apartment building and a school were evacuated. Northeast winds that whipped the flames into a frenzy around the multimillion dollar homes perched in the hills faded by afternoon. Firefighters, fearing the return of Santa Ana winds at nightfall, rushed to try and contain the blaze as darkness fell.
As many as five roaring fires across the region have forced shutdowns of Hollywood productions, cultural institutions and closed highways and schools.
A smoky haze hung over hundreds of charred homes across the sprawling metropolis as emergency crews slowly picked their way through the hardest-hit areas.
In Ventura County northwest of L.A., fire covered 90,000 acres Wednesday, sweeping through canyons to the sea.
State fire director Ken Pimlott said winds were expected to hit 80-mph by Thursday — which might make it impossible for first responders to continue to battle the blaze.
“Conditions are going to change again tonight,” Pimlott said. “They’re going to be extreme tomorrow. We need to have everybody’s heads up — heads on a swivel — and pay very close attention.”
Pimlott put the wildfire threat to Southern California as purple for Thursday — a color that means extreme danger and that fires that erupt will burn uncontrollably.
The region has never before had a purple warning. Below that is red, for intense and hard to control blazes.
Nearly 1,800 firefighters and a fleet of aircraft have waged war on the natural disaster since Monday.
But the blaze is only 5% contained and an estimated 12,000 buildings are in danger.
President Trump on Wednesday said his thoughts and prayers “are with everyone” in the path of the wildfires.
He also encouraged Californian’s “to heed the advice and orders of local and state officials.”
No deaths and only a few injuries were reported, state officials said, even though some 200,000 people were under evacuation orders.
Many schools across Los Angeles canceled classes because of poor air quality.
UCLA, at the edge of the Bel Air evacuation zone, canceled afternoon classes and its evening basketball game. By late afternoon, firefighters said they had controlled the fire’s advance.
Production of HBO’s “Westworld” and the CBS show “S.W.A.T.” was suspended because of the danger to cast and crew from two nearby fires.
In Ventura County northwest of L.A., the biggest and most destructive of the wildfires grew to 101 square miles (262 square kilometers) and had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles (about 45 kilometers) inland a day earlier.
The fire destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds of homes have been lost.
While winds were calmer Wednesday, the fire remained active around Ventura, spreading along the coast to the west and up into the mountains around the community of Ojai and into the agricultural area of Santa Paula.
“We’re basically in an urban firefight in Ventura, where if you can keep that house from burning, you might be able to slow the fire down,” said Tim Chavez, a fire behavior specialist at the blaze. “But that’s about it.”
The ride-sharing app Lyft offered those fleeing the Southern California fires free rides to local evacuation centers.
With News Wire Services.