Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Nation & World

Bel-Air wildfire joins the siege across Southern California

LOS ANGELES — A wildfire erupted in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel-Air section Wednesday as yet another part of Southern California found itself under siege from an outbreak of wind-whipped blazes that have consumed multimillion-dollar houses and tract homes alike.

Hundreds of homes across the L.A. metropolitan area and beyond were feared destroyed since Monday, but firefighters were only slowly managing to make their way into some of the hard-hit areas for an accurate count.

As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region. About 200,000 people were under evacuation orders. No deaths and only a few injuries were reported.

From the beachside city of Ventura, where rows of homes were leveled, to the rugged foothills north of Los Angeles, where more than two dozen horses died at a boarding stable, to Bel-Air, where the rich and famous have sweeping views of L.A. below, fierce Santa Ana winds sweeping in from the desert fanned the flames and fears.

"God willing, this will slow down so the firefighters can do their job," said Maurice Kaboud, who ignored an evacuation order and stood in his backyard with a garden hose at the ready.

Air tankers that were grounded most of Tuesday because of high winds flew on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.

They were expected to gust as high as 80 mph overnight into today, possibly creating unprecedented fire danger. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which uses a color-coded wind index, issued a purple forecast, the most severe, for the first time ever, director Ken Pimlott said.

"They’re going to be extreme tomorrow," Pimlott said. "We need to have everybody’s heads up — heads on a swivel — and pay very close attention."

Before dawn Wednesday, flames exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily traveled Interstate 405 and destroying multiple homes in Bel-Air, where houses range from $2 million to tens of millions of dollars.

Many schools across Los Angeles were closed because of poor air quality and classes were canceled at 265 schools today.

UCLA, at the edge of the Bel-Air evacuation zone, canceled afternoon classes and its evening basketball game. Students on campus wore dust and surgical masks.

By late afternoon, firefighters said they had controlled the fire’s advance.

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