Several huge, fast-moving wildfires that have already torched nearly 120,000 acres in and near Los Angeles this week will worsen Thursday under heavy winds, threatening thousands of lives and homes.
According to the National Weather Service, the Santa Ana winds could reach 80 mph, or Category 1 hurricane strength, resulting in the most extreme “purple” level fire threat. It’s reportedly the first time the agency has ever issued a purple warning in California.
“The sky is orange, you can smell the smoke, and you know people are losing their homes,” said University of California Los Angeles environmental scientist Glen MacDonald. “It really shows you our relative power to nature. We sometimes overestimate how much we can handle.”
The late-season fires, which are affecting several high population areas including the cities of Los Angeles, San Bernadino, and Ventura, are unusual but not unprecedented. MacDonald said several factors converged this year to create what he called the “perfect fire storm,” California’s worst fire season on record.
After years of drought, a wet winter nourished a bumper crop of grasses, shrubs, and trees throughout the state. Searing summer heat dried out this vegetation, with the Los Angeles region baking under record triple-digit temperatures as late as October. Over the long term, temperature and rainfall patterns are shifting due to climate change throughout California, but the south is getting it worse than the north.
Northern California suffered its own devastating fires in wine country last month, which incinerated 221,000 acres and killed more than 20 people.
For the Los Angeles region, it was only a matter of time before something set all the fuel ablaze. Now gusts reaching 80 mph from seasonal Santa Ana winds are spreading flames and sweeping embers over highways.
Multiple large fires are now simultaneously burning — the biggest are the Thomas Fire, Creek Fire, Rye Fire, and Skirball Fire. Here are a few of the most vivid images we’ve seen of the recent blazes and the fight to contain them.
— Joshua Stevens (@jscarto) December 6, 2017
— Marcus Yam (@yamphoto) December 7, 2017
— Angeles_NF (@Angeles_NF) December 5, 2017
— KTLA (@KTLA) December 6, 2017
— Rick Patrick (@70sspacepunk) December 6, 2017
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