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article imageSouthern California fires force evacuation of nearly 200,000

By Karen Graham     Dec 6, 2017 in Environment
Los Angeles - Wind-whipped fires continue to rage for a third day in Southern California, including a new blaze in the posh Bel Air area of Los Angeles and Interstate 405, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.
The terrifying firestorm, driven by the Santa Ana winds, reached the Pacific Ocean Tuesday after spreading to at least 65,000 acres as it roared through oil fields and crossed freeways, burning almost everything in its path.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting the new blaze in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, close to UCLA, has already destroyed several of the multi-million dollar homes, forcing the closure of the 405 freeway between the 101 and 10 freeways, as well as all the onramps to the 405.
The wildfires are burning extremely dry terrains along the northern and western edges of Los Angeles, and more extensively, Ventura County, northwest of the country's second most populous city. The Ventura fire, known as the Thomas fire, started on Monday.
The Santa Ana winds
Forest Service meteorologist Tom Rolinski knew that when a wildfire broke out Monday evening in Ventura County, it was going to be a problem. The Thomas fire started in a known wind corridor on the first day of dry Santa Ana winds that are expected to buffet Southern California for nearly a week.
As an added worry, it has been nearly eight months since the last good rainfall soaked the terrain. “Fires will spread very rapidly in these conditions and basically will be uncontrollable,” Rolinski said.
The Santa Ana winds are strong, extremely dry down-slope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California and northern Baja California. They originate from cool, dry high-pressure air masses in the Mohave Desert and Great Basin of the western United States.
The Santa Ana winds are hot and extremely dry, creating critical fire conditions. Known as "devil winds," Santa Anas are infamous for fanning regional wildfires. The winds are strong, often with gusts of over 75 mph.
By nightfall Wednesday, the winds are expected to pick up speed into the 20-30 mph range, with gusts averaging 45-50 mph and peaking around 60-70 mph in the mountains. The increased wind speeds will last through Thursday morning.
By Tuesday night, over 43,000 homes and businesses were without power, according to Southern California Edison. Close to 200,000 people are now under evacuation orders. The wildfire also burned the Vista del Mar Hospital, an 82-bed mental health facility in northwestern Ventura, which was fully evacuated two hours before, county fire engineer Richard Macklin said.
The "red flag" alert, which is for extreme weather conditions will remain in effect through Friday. Containment of the Thomas fire is not yet in sight and it could burn for days.
More about Wildfires, California, santa ana winds, Evacuations, Air quality