Wildfires sparking apocalyptic destruction
Jonathan Hunt reports from Ventura, California
A series of wind-whipped wildfires that turned parts of Southern California into a smoldering scene of destruction continued to rage Wednesday, as the vicious gusts that fueled the flames kept aircrafts used in the firefight mostly grounded.
A new fire erupted early Wednesday near the famed Getty Center in the Sepulveda Pass in Los Angeles, prompting the closure of the northbound 405 Freeway.
The blaze was reported at 4:52 a.m. on the east side of the freeway near Mulholland Drive, Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department told FOX 11.
The Getty Center and the nearby Skirball Center are both on the west side of the freeway opposite the roughly 50-acre blaze, but the fire was threatening homes toward the top of the hill on the east side, according to FOX 11.
The brush fire is burning uphill, driven by topography rather than winds, fire officials said. There were no injuries reported and over 200 firefighters responded to the scene, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson told Fox News.
The largest and most destructive of the fires in region, an 85-square-mile blaze known as the "Thomas Fire" in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, had nearly reached the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles inland a day earlier.
The blaze is now estimated to be at 50,000 acres with zero percent containment. It is being pushed by strong Santa Ana winds from the east as it consumes vegetation that hasn't burned in decades, according to FOX 11 Los Angeles.
A wildfire burns along the 101 Freeway Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
"The prospects for containment are not good," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday. "Really, Mother Nature's going to decide when we have the ability to put it out."
Those fierce winds, with gusts of over 50 mph on Tuesday, kept water-dropping planes and helicopters mostly grounded because it's too dangerous to fly them in those conditions.
Fire commanders hoped to have them back in the air on Wednesday, but all indications were that the winds will be whipping then, too – fanning the flames that spurred evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people, destroyed nearly 200 homes and remained mostly out control.
A wildfire continues to burn as its red glow is reflected on the beach Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
While the blazes in Southern California brought memories of the firestorm two months ago further north that killed 44 people, no deaths and only a handful of injuries had been reported as of Wednesday morning.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES TRIGGER MASS DESTRUCTION, HURTING FAMILIES, ECONOMY
"This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we'll continue to attack it with all we've got," California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement as he declared a state of emergency in Ventura County. "It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so."
A wildfire consumes a home Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The "Thomas Fire" jumped the major artery of U.S. Highway 101 to a rocky beach northwest of Ventura, bringing new evacuations, though officials said the sparse population and lack of vegetation in the area meant it was not overly dangerous, and the highway was not closed.
A man rides his bike past a home consumed by a wildfire Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The fire had destroyed at least 150 structures, but Todd Derum, an incident commander, said he suspects hundreds more homes have already been lost, though firefighters have been unable to assess them. Mansions and modest homes alike were in flames in the city. Dozens of houses in one neighborhood burned to the ground.
Lisa Kermode and her children returned to their home Tuesday after evacuating Monday to find their home and world in ashes, including a Christmas tree and the presents they had just bought.
"We got knots in our stomach coming back up here," Kermode told the Associated Press. "We lost everything, everything, all our clothes, anything that was important to us. All our family heirlooms — it's not sort of gone, it's completely gone."
Smoke fills the sky near Hansen Dam in San Fernando Valley as a wildfire burns in the area in Los Angeles on Tuesday Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
John Keasler, 65, and his wife Linda raced out of their apartment building as the flames approached, then stood and watched the fire burn it to the ground.
"It is sad," Keasler said. "We loved this place. We lost everything."
The blaze also destroyed Vista del Mar Hospital, a psychiatric hospital that specializes in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Smoke from the Creek wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains, the second range behind the Hollywood Hills, home of the Hollywood sign, looms up over Los Angeles Tuesday morning, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
"I burst into tears," Sandy Case, who lives next to the facility, told the Los Angeles Times. "It broke my heart."
Firefighters race to save Christmas as wildfire claims home
While the "Thomas Fire" may be the largest wildfire in the region, a separate blaze known as the "Creek Fire" in the foothills of northern Los Angeles burned 30 structures and forced more than 100,000 people from their homes.
EXPLOSIVE WILDFIRES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FORCE TENS OF THOUSANDS TO EVACUATE
An estimated 600 firefighters were battling the blaze, which was being pushed by sustained winds of 25 mph, along with gusts up to 45 mph, according to FOX 11.
Fires are not typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region over the past six months.
The so-called Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region's most disastrous wildfires, which blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travfed