Fierce, dry Santa Ana winds off the Southern California mountains eased early Friday, helping firefighters make progress in corralling major wildfires that have displaced thousands of residents.
A flurry of 40 km/h wind gusts late Thursday triggered multiple smaller blazes that kept firefighters busy, with more homes torched and residents evacuated. But rescuers were grateful for the reduction in wind speeds from over 140 km/h that had fanned and spread the flames earlier in the week.
“We’re seeing a marked reduction in the wind speeds,” senior U.S. National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Burke at the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Md.
He said to expect “steady winds” of around 25 to 32 km/h through Friday, but noted that’s “way down from what it was.”
“We’ll continue to see a marked reduction through the weekend. I’d say this wind event is about over.”
A fresh spate of wildfires roared to life on Thursday, destroying homes and forcing evacuations, before the Santa Ana winds lost their punch overnight.
But a fresh brush fire broke out atop South Mountain late Thursday in Ventura County, consuming more than more than 1,600 hectares and destroying some buildings, and local media reported it had more than doubled in size by early Friday.
Among several new wind-driven fires that erupted Thursday was a blaze on the rugged slopes of the San Bernardino National Forest above the city of San Bernardino, which barrelled into the north end of town.
The Hillside Fire quickly devoured more than 80 hectares of dry scrub and destroyed or damaged at least six homes before firefighters managed to keep the flames from advancing farther, fire officials said.
As of early afternoon, crews had managed to carve containment lines around 50 per cent of the fire’s perimeter. No injuries were reported, but evacuation orders remained in effect for nearly 500 homes, displacing about 1,300 residents.
A fire that erupted early on Monday near the famed Getty Center art museum in west Los Angeles threatened thousands of homes in some of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, but was largely suppressed by Thursday, with containment listed at 40 per cent.
Residents were allowed to return to most of the 10,000 homes that had been ordered evacuated. The museum emerged unscathed, but about a dozen dwellings were lost in the Getty Fire and two firefighters were injured.
About 50 kilometres to the northwest, a fire raged to the edge of the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Ventura County’s Simi Valley on Wednesday, threatening thousands of homes, but was 60 per cent contained early on Friday.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire, which charred more than 31,000 hectares of Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco, started last week near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a high-voltage line on that tower malfunctioned.
The blaze has destroyed at least 349 homes and other structures, but was listed as 65 per cent contained on Thursday evening.
PG&E, which over this past weekend began shutting off power to 940,000 California customers to guard against the risk of an electrical mishap sparking a blaze, said late on Thursday it had restored electricity to virtually all customers.