“You can only imagine the impact this weather is having”
Editor’s note: This story is being continuously updated with the latest information.
Explosive wind gusts clocking in at more than 70 miles per hour blew across Los Angeles overnight, fanning an “erratic and dangerous fire” in the San Fernando Valley that has burned 30 structures and forced as many as 150,000 residents to evacuate.
“It’s still growing,” David Richardson, chief deputy of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said at a morning press conference, as Santa Ana winds whipped around him. “You can only imagine the impact this weather is having.”
The mandatory evacuation orders will be in effect until at least Wednesday. The evacuation zone includes a large swath of the northern San Fernando Valley, north of Foothill Boulevard, from Sylmar to Lake View Terrance to Sunland-Tujunga. The 210 freeway is closed in both directions from the 5 to the 2.
The blaze is fueled not only by strong winds, but by dry brush thanks to wet season that has produced, according to the National Weather Service, just 0.03 inches of rain.
“Our No. 1 concern is the weather. If the weather breaks, we will get the upper hand,” says Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas. “Until that happens, we’re still at the mercy of the weather.”
Officials warn that with the erratic winds and dry brush, the fire will continue to spread, and it probably won’t be the only fire to break out amid these conditions. Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck predicts the Creek Fire itself will be a “multi-day event.”
“We are facing critical fire behavior in ways that people may not have experienced in the past, this is the fifth year of an ongoing drought … we have flashy fuels, erratic wind behavior,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby says. “It is extremely crucial that when you’re asked to evacuate, evacuate early.”
Osby says it’s not unusual to get powerful winds in December. Santa Ana season typically runs from October to April, but “we’ve had very minimal rains. We just haven’t had the rainfall.”
The Creek Fire is one of four fires tearing through Southern California. The largest is the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. It has scorched 45,000 acres and was sparked Monday evening near Steckel Park in Santa Paul and “spread from the hillsides above Santa Paula, down toward the small city and west to Ventura.”
“We have this fire and the devastating fire in Ventura County have definitely tapped resources throughout the region,” Richardson says.
The dry Santa Ana winds picked up overnight, with the National Weather Service recording top wind speeds of 71 miles per hour in Decker Canyon, 66 miles per hours in Granada Hills, and 52 miles per hour at Hollywood Burbank Airport.
The winds were expected to slowly weaken throughout this morning but then pick up again Thursday morning into early Thursday afternoon, with gusts topping 80 miles per hour in the mountains and 50 miles per hour in the valleys.
There’s not a drop of rain in Southern California’s forecast for at least the next two weeks. The Weather Service says Red Flag warnings will “probably have to be extended through at least Friday.”
— Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) December 5, 2017
“We expect this weather for the next five days … so embers could kick into residential areas,” Garcetti says. “Everybody on the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley, be prepared. This could be a fast-moving fire.”