California wildfires: Crews make progress as winds subside

The Santa Ana winds, a seasonal weather phenomena, had complicated efforts to control fires in Southern California.

    Firefighters battled the Maria Fire, which sparked Thursday night [Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press]
    Firefighters battled the Maria Fire, which sparked Thursday night [Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press]

    Fierce winds in Southern California that have complicated efforts to fight widespread wildfires in the region eased early on Friday, helping crews make progress in corralling the blazes that have displaced thousands of residents.

    Authorities said the reprieve from the winds allowed firefighters to get a handle on the fires, which have been burning on both ends of the state. 

    Several new fires had roared to life on Thursday in hilly neighbourhoods outside of Los Angeles, destroying homes and forcing yet more evacuations in the fire-ravaged state. However, the so-called "Santa Ana winds", a seasonal weather phenomenon that brings flame-stoking winds to the areas, began to subside overnight.

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    On Thursday evening, the Maria Fire in Ventura County ignited and torched more than 3,240 hectares (8,000 acres), threatening some 1,800 homes and other structures, according to the county fire department. About 7,500 residents were ordered to find lodgings elsewhere, and dozens of schools were closed on Friday.

    East of Los Angeles, the Hillside Fire scorched more than 80 hectares (200 acres) of the San Bernardino National Forest, burning residential areas in the north end of the city of San Bernardino, destroying at least six homes on Thursday, the county's fire department said.

    By Friday, Crews had managed to carve containment lines around 50 percent of that fire's perimeter. No injuries were reported.

    The dry Santa Ana winds that howl down from the mountains every autumn in Southern California were forecast to abate on Friday, although there could still be fire-fuelling gusts of 25 to 32 kilometres per hour (15 to 20 miles per hour), the National Weather Service said.

    Firefighter California
    Firefighters battled the Maria Fire in Somis, California [Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press]

    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 neighborhoods but was largely suppressed, with containment listed at 40 percent.

    Residents in the area 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 301-hectare (745-acre) Getty fire and two firefighters were injured.

    A fire raging neat the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Ventura County's Simi Valley, which sparked on Wednesday, was 60 percent contained early on Friday. Firefighters managed to douse flames before they could reach the library. 

    Kincade Fire

    Meanwhile, The Kincade Fire, which has been burning in Sonoma County wine country near San Francisco in the state's north since last week, had been 65 percent contained. 

    Pacific Gas and Electric company (PG&E) acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire, a blaze that charred 31,160 hectares (77,000 acres), started last week near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a high-voltage line on that tower malfunctioned.

    California Fire Victim
    Justo and Bernadette Laos show a photo of the home they rented, which was destroyed by the Kincade Fire near Geyserville in California [Charlie Riedel/The Associated Press]

    That blaze has burned more than 31,400 hectares (77,700 acres) and destroyed at least 349 homes and other structures but was listed as 65 percent 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.

    The state's governor has been sharply critical of PG&E, saying corporate greed and mismanagement kept it from upgrading its infrastructure while wildfire hazards have steadily worsened over the past decade.

    SOURCE: News agencies