California Wildfires Roar Out Of Control, Whipped By Santa Ana Winds

VENTURA, Calif. (CBS News) — A dramatic new wildfire erupted in Los Angeles early Wednesday as firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California. Flames exploded before dawn on the steep slopes of the Sepulveda Pass, which carries heavily traveled Interstate 405 through the Santa Monica Mountains where ridgetops are covered with expensive homes.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in an exclusive neighborhood. Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said a wider area on the east side of the pass has been advised to get ready in case of evacuation orders.

Firefighters were providing structure protection as helicopters flying in darkness made water drops on the flames on the east side of the pass. Traffic was halted for the area of the 405 that goes over the pass, between U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 10.

Hundreds of homes burned in the area during the famous Bel Air Fire of 1961. The Getty Center art complex, on the west side of the pass, employs extensive fire protection methods.

Elsewhere, use of firefighting aircraft has been constrained by the same winds that have spread the fires.

The water-dropping planes and helicopters essential to taming and containing wildfires have been mostly grounded because it’s too dangerous to fly them in the strong wind. Tuesday saw gusts of over 50 mph.

Commanders hoped to have them back in the air on Wednesday morning, but all indications were that the winds will be whipping then too, fanning the flames that spurred evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people, destroyed nearly 200 homes and remained mostly out control.

“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”

In Washington, President Trump said on Twitter that people should pay attention to officials’ advice and orders.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of California’s wildfires,” the president said. “I encourage everyone to heed the advice and orders of local and state officials. THANK YOU to all First Responders for your incredible work!”

Southern California’s Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.

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