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California fires stretch from north of Los Angeles to San Diego County

Posted at 3:12 AM, Dec 08, 2017

Wildfires roared across Southern California for a fifth day on Friday, with new blazes prompting more evacuations as neighborhoods in San Diego County went up in flames.

Six large wildfires have scorched nearly 160,000 acres in the state this week, said officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. At least 5,700 firefighters are working to contain the towering walls of flames.

The fires have forced 190,000 people out of their homes, some with nothing but their pets and a few mementos.

Dry air and strong winds are forecast for the region through Sunday, which may fuel the fires, according to CNN meteorologist Rachel Aissen.

Residents should be ready to evacuate even if they don't live in areas immediately affected by flames, Cal Fire Division Chief Nick Schuler said Thursday night.

"They need to prepare as if they will be impacted. Where are they gonna go? What are their escape routes? What is their communication to their families?" he said.

Latest developments

• Federal emergency: President Donald Trump declared an emergency in the state Friday due to the wildfires and ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

• New fire: The Lilac Fire in San Diego County started Thursday and grew to 4,100 acres in a few hours, leading to new evacuation orders. Evacuation centers have been set up in affected areas as the fire moves west toward Oceanside and Camp Pendleton.

• More injuries: The Lilac Fire has left three people with burn injuries and two firefighters hurt. One firefighter suffered smoke inhalation, while the second one had a dislocated shoulder. The latter popped it back into place and continued working, Schuler said.

School closings: Officials have shut down schools spanning at least 16 districts.

State declarations: Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation for Santa Barbara and San Diego counties. The declarations help free state resources such as the National Guard to support response efforts. He's also requested federal assistance to supplement state and local emergency response.

Fast winds: Wind gusts in the region will be 35 to 55 mph through Sunday, which can fan the fire, Aissen said.

The fires

The six blazes vary in size.

Thomas Fire: The largest of the fires has scorched 132,000 acres after starting Monday in Ventura County. It's 10% contained and has destroyed at least 73 residences.It's also spread into neighboring Santa Barbara County.

Creek Fire: The second-largest blaze ignited a day later in neighboring Los Angeles County. It has burned 15,323 acresand is 20% contained.

Rye Fire: It broke out Tuesday in Los Angeles County and has burned 7,000 acres. Firefighters are making progress, with 25% of the blaze contained.

Lilac Fire: This fast-moving fire consumed 4,100 acres in a few hours after erupting Thursday in San Diego County. It's unclear how much of it is contained.

Skirball Fire: It started Wednesday as a brush fire in Los Angeles County and is now 30% contained.

Liberty Fire: The blaze in Riverside County has burned 300 acres since it ignited Thursday. It's 5% contained.

The firefighters

In addition to long hours battling blazes, firefighters are also grappling with the effects of smoke inhalation and embers irritating their eyes.

"Honestly, the firefighters are taking a beating, but we have to acknowledge the residents because they're taking a beating, too, but they're cooperating with our orders," said Thomas Kruschke, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

Other agencies have stepped in to help the firefighters, with military and navy helicopters set to join the Lilac Fire effort Friday morning, Schuler said.

The state National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing out of Oxnard also joined the fight, even though roughly 50 of the National Guardsmen involved had to be evacuated themselves, said spokeswoman Maj. Kimberly Holman. Three lost their homes in the blazes, she said.

How bad is it?

The Thomas Fire has burned an area that's more than twice the size of Washington, D.C.

It spread over 31,000 acres in nine hours, which is nearly an acre per second. At that rate, it would have consumed New York's Central Park in about 15 minutes.

The blaze ranks as the 19th most destructive fire in the state's records. It's the biggest in Los Angeles since the Bel-Air fire in 1961 torched the homes of the rich and famous.

Fire officials said Thursday brought a historic fire danger score and prompted them to upgrade their color-coding system to include purple for the first time. The scale used to measure the potency of the Santa Ana winds typically runs from gray, for little or no danger, to red, for high danger.