Los Angeles

Some Malibu Evacuation Orders Lifted as Firefighters Increase Woolsey Fire Containment

A flare-up in eastern Ventura County was a reminder of the fire's potential when fanned by wind gusts

What to Know

  • A red flag warning remain in effect, but winds are expected to decrease after peaking Wednesday morning
  • Firefighters responded to a flare-up Wednesday east of Point Mugu State Park
  • The Woolsey fire is expected to be fully contained by Sunday

Firefighters continued to attack hot spots Wednesday as they made progress in battling the deadly Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Some evacuation orders were lifted, but strong morning gusts were a reminder of the continuing danger. Warnings were re-issued to residents in evacuated areas to stay away until conditions are deemed safe. The fire's potential to flare up was on display Tuesday afternoon when winds picked up in eastern Ventura County, fanning flames that tore through dry brush near Hidden Valley and Lake Sherwood.

The sheriff's department has repeatedly tried to reassure residents worried about looters that their homes would be safe, with more than 600 deputies on 12-hour rotational shifts.

The flare-up was originally estimated at about 50 acres but grew rapidly, eventually reaching an estimated 1,000 acres. The fire, which began last Thursday, was estimated at a total acreage of 97,600 Wednesday morning with containment at 47 percent. 

More than 380 structures have been destroyed.

Full containment is expected by Sunday. 

The fire death toll likely grew to three with the discovery Tuesday of a body in the Agoura Hills area. Investigators said the death appears to be related to the fire, but have not determined an official cause.

Two people who died in the fire were found Friday inside a burned vehicle in a long driveway in the 33000 block of Mulholland Highway.

Wednesday is expected to bring the final round of Santa Ana wind gusts. Winds will weaken by midday, easing the threat of rapidly spreading fire. 

Santa Ana winds, produced by surface high pressure over the Great Basin squeezing air down through canyons and passes in Southern California's mountain ranges, are common in the fall and have a long history of fanning destructive wildfires in the region.

Fall is historically one of the most dangerous times of the year for wildfires in California. Seven of the state's 10-most destructive wildfires occurred in October -- many fueled by monster winds, including Santa Ana gusts. 

Flames are burning deep in the Malibu Canyon area that fire crews cannot access.

"We're doing a lot of air drops but it's not safe for our firefighters to go in there," Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said. "Our concern is that when the wind shifts (likely on Thursday) ... that fire does not blow out of there and then creep over to the south side of Malibu or into Topanga Canyon."

"When it's safe to let people come back home, we will."

Osby said the fire is larger than Denver and is one of the largest fires on record for Los Angeles County, with records dating back more than 100 years.

A red flag warning was extended through 5 p.m. Wednesday for the Woolsey Fire area in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The fire has forced the evacuation of at least 75,000 homes and an estimated 265,000 people.

Three firefighters have been injured battling the Woolsey Fire.

Some 3,592 firefighters were assigned to battle the blaze, while, 22 helicopters worked from above, officials said. A total of 619 engines, 48 water tenders, 23 bulldozers and 57 hand crews were sent into the battle, Cal Fire reported. Crews from other areas, including Orange County and Arizona, also sent firefighters and equipment to aid the battle.

According to Cal Fire, more than a half-million gallons of fire retardant has been dropped already on the Woolsey Fire, along with 1.5 million gallons of water.

The California Public Utilities Commission was investigating Southern California Edison for its possible role in the fire. According to the CPUC, electrical infrastructure may have suffered malfunctions near ground zero of the blazes two minutes before they began.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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