Firefighters Gain Some Ground in Blazes Pummeling Southern California

A wildfire threatens homes as it burns along a hillside in La Conchita, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. The wind-swept blazes have forced tens of thousands of evacuations and destroyed dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES – The wildfires racing across Southern California have led to the closure of hundreds of schools in Los Angeles and Ventura counties Thursday, as well as the closure of a main highway running up the West Coast.

All schools in the San Fernando Valley and 17 schools impacted by the Skirball Fire in the ritzy enclave of Bel-Air will be closed Thursday and Friday, according to the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Skirball Fire has burned 475 acres in steep terrain near the Sepulveda Pass and is 5 percent contained. Authorities said 11 structures have been damaged and four were destroyed.

Several community colleges in the area will also be closed for the rest of the week.

Twenty miles to the north, the Creek Fire in Sylmar has burned 12,605 acres and is 10 percent contained. Nearby, the Rye Fire burning west of Valencia in Los Angeles County has burned 7,000 acres and is 15 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.

The Creek Fire has destroyed five homes and 10 outbuildings, while the Rye Fire has destroyed one structure.

Overnight, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County exploded to 96,000 acres, with 2,500 fire personnel working to stop it. The Ventura County Fire Department said the fire is 5 percent contained, and 15,000 structures are in the path of danger. Evacuation orders remain in place throughout the cities of Ojai, Santa Paula, Ventura and surrounding areas, and a curfew has been issued by the Ventura Police Department.

Over 70 homes, 3 commercial buildings and 15 outbuildings have been destroyed, according to the Cal Fire. Authorities also closed U.S. 101 – the main artery linking Los Angeles to San Francisco and beyond – for a dozen miles because of the blaze.

And on Thursday afternoon, Cal Fire said firefighters were battling a new wind-fanned brush fire in the north San Diego County town of Bonsall. The Lilac Fire has already burned 500 acres and at least two buildings, and damaged 12 others. Mandatory evacuations are in effect in the area, Cal Fire said.

A red-flag warning remains in place for most of Southern California. Severe wind gusts are expected to taper off overnight.

Meteorologist David Sweet with the National Weather Service said winds on Thursday will be the strongest of the week, reaching 45 to 60 mph for Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, and morning gusts will kick up through the weekend.

The lack of rain doesn’t help fire conditions either. Relative humidity remains low for most of the region. The rainy season that typically starts in November hasn’t begun yet for most of Southern California, Sweet said.

Since Oct. 1, Los Angeles has received under a tenth of an inch of rain.

Flames from the Thomas fire burn above a truck on Highway 101 north of Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
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