Five dead as fires devastate California, more than 100000 people under evacuation order; Malibu threatened

More than 150,000 people in California are under evacuation orders statewide due to growing wind-whipped fires which have burned an estimated 2,150 homes or structures and led to at least five fatalities, according to officials.

There are at least three major wildfires burning in California, stretching California’s firefighting resources thin and leading authorities on Friday to ask for help from several Western states. One of the fires devastated communities in Ventura County and as of Friday afternoon was burning out of control and destroying multiple structures in the Calabasas and Malibu areas of Los Angeles County.

“Weather-wise we are literally in a statewide ‘red flag’ weather warning,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services. “Fire weather conditions are extreme. We are literally seeing it from border to border.”

An estimated 157,000 people are under evacuation orders statewide, including more than 105,000 residents from two blazes in Southern California. The so-called Woolsey fire crossed the 101 Freeway from the Ventura County line on Friday morning and within hours led to the evacuation of the entire beachfront city of Malibu, where many celebrities have homes.

Cher was one of the celebrities who tweeted about her home being in harm’s way. Actor Orlando Bloom also posted on Instagram about the blaze being near his residence.

An estimated 150 homes were lost in the Woolsey fire in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. However, those numbers are likely to grow as the massive fire continues to rage with zero containment.

Evacuations remain in effect in several communities in Ventura County, including portions of Westlake Village, Hidden Hills, Calabasas and Agoura Hills.

The fast-spreading Woolsey fire is believed to have started Thursday afternoon in Ventura County’s Simi Valley near the former Rocketdyne research facility in the Santa Susana Pass. The blaze spread into the nearby Bell Canyon area and then wind gusts of up to 60 mph pushed it into Agoura Hills and the Oak Park area of Thousand Oaks

Several homes were lost in the Bell Canyon area of eastern Ventura County and neighborhoods in the adjacent West Hills area in the city of the LA were at risk as the sun went down.

The Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, a Western-style town where many television shows and movies have been filmed over the decades, was reported to be lost Friday.

“We now we have a number of structures that were lost during the firefight overnight,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told reporters Friday during a morning news briefing. “Fortunately there have not been any civilian fatalities as a result of lack of evacuations.”

Several large air tankers and copters were helping battle the Woolsey fire, dropping fire retardant or water to slow or stop the spread of flames. Lorenzen said there were “hundreds of firefighters” assigned to the blaze and more fire crews on the way to battle the menacing blaze.

The Woolsey fire exploded to an estimated 35,000 acres Friday afternoon, or more than double the amount it stood at in the morning. A wall of flames engulfed mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean as darkness fell and there were also reports of beachfront homes at risk.

Another 6,100 acres were charred from the so-called Hill fire near Thousand Oaks. The Hill fire is burning into the footprint of the Springs fire of 2013, causing it to slow, according to Lorenzen.

There also was a brush fire reported Friday morning in Griffith Park area near the Los Angeles Zoo. Smoke was visible from throughout the LA basin, including the downtown area.

As a result of the Hill and Woolsey fires, California’s acting Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Friday for Los Angeles and Ventura counties. It follows Newsom declaring an emergency proclamation on Thursday for Butte County in Northern California due to the so-called Camp fire, which has led the evacuation of about 52,000 people and devastated the community of Paradise.

Newsom announced late Friday that the White House approved a federal presidential emergency declaration for three counties affected by major wildfires, Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. It will speed up federal assistance, including air assets to help with the fires as well as shelter supplies and water for evacuated residents.

“California is appreciative for the timely response, which will help emergency responders in their heroic efforts to protect Californians and their communities,” said Newsom in a statement.

Statewide, more than 75,000 homes or structures are threatened.

Ghilarducci, the state emergency official, said at a news briefing Friday that the Butte County blaze is “an extremely challenging fire and has resulted in significant and catastrophic loss,” especially to the community of Paradise located just outside Chico.

About 2,000 homes or structures have been reported lost and at least five fatalities reported due to the Camp fire. According to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, the five victims were found vehicles that were overcome by the Camp fire. It provided no other details of the circumstances of the deaths.

More than 70,000 acres have burned in the Camp fire, according to Cal Fire. The agency reported that more than 2,300 firefighting personnel were battling the blaze and were assisted by at least 18 aircraft. The fire is located about 90 miles north of Sacramento.

The Butte County fire started Thursday morning and quickly spread due to strong winds, according to authorities. The source of the fire remains under investigation.

At least 52,000 people are under evacuation orders due to the Northern California fire, which was 5 percent contained as of Friday afternoon.

The wildfire burning in Butte County was on full display in a satellite photo released Friday by NASA. It captured the dramatic view of the blaze threatening several towns.

At the same time, there are smaller wildfires burning in Northern California, including a blaze north of Santa Cruz. There’s also been wildfires reported in Fresno, Mendocino and Solano counties.

According to Ghilarducci, California has requested additional firefighting resources from other Western states, including Oregon, Arizona, Washington, New Mexico and Wyoming.

“We are not just responding to what’s in front of us,” the state official said, “but we’re also contemplating what the next 24 and 48 hours are going to look like. We know that the winds will die down, but then we’re going to be picking up another wind event that will be starting late Sunday and going into early next week.”