A firefighter mops up at a home consumed by a wildfire in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Higher winds could complicate California wildfire fight

The expected strength of the winds have reached uncharted territory

Southern California has felt yellow wind, orange wind, and red wind. But never purple wind. Until now.

The colour-coded system showing the expected strength of the winds driving the region’s fierce wildfires has reached uncharted territory, pushing past red, which means “high” into the colour that means “extreme.”

The forecast for Thursday is purple.

“We’ve never used purple before,” said Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Southern California has already been hit hard by three major fires that have put tens of thousands of people under evacuation orders and destroyed at nearly 200 homes and buildings, a figure that is almost certain to grow.

But the hard-won progress of firefighters could be erased Thursday.

“We’re talking winds that can surface that can be 80 miles an hour,” Pimlott said. “These will be winds that there will no ability to fight fires.”

Such winds can instantly turn a tiny fire into a large one, or carry embers that spark new fires miles away.

Millions of cellphones buzzed loudly Tuesday night from San Diego to Santa Barbara with a sound that usually means an Amber Alert, but this time meant a rare weather warning for strong winds making extreme fire danger.

Officials hope the electronic push will keep the whole region alert and keep the death toll from the week’s fires at zero.

Melissa Rosenzweig, 47, was briefly back home Tuesday after evacuating from her Ventura house, which has been spared so far while most on her street had burned in the largest and most destructive of the region’s fires. She and her husband were about to evacuate again, hoping they will get lucky twice as the new winds arrive.

“Heck yeah I’m still worried,” Rosenzweig said. “We’re very grateful but I know we’re not out of the woods.”

In what may have been an early sign of the 140-square-mile fire getting new life, several thousand new evacuations were ordered late Tuesday night in Ojai, a town of artists and resorts. The blaze had been creeping there already, but an increase in winds pushed it close enough for many more to flee.

Related: Winds churn explosive California wildfires

The wilder winds could easily send make new fires explode too, as one did Wednesday in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel-Air section, where a fire consumed multimillion-dollar houses that give the rich and famous sweeping views of Los Angeles.

Little flame was visible by late Tuesday, but in the morning fire exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily travelled Interstate 405 and destroying four homes.

Flames burned a wine storage shed at media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s 16-acre (6.5-hectare) Moraga Vineyards estate and appeared to have damaged about 7 acres (2.8 hectares) of vines, a spokeswoman said.

Across the wide I-405 freeway from the fire, the Getty Center art complex was closed to protect its collection from smoke damage. Many schools across Los Angeles were closed because of poor air quality and classes were cancelled at 265 schools Thursday.

Back in the beachside city of Ventura, the fire killed more than two dozen horses at a stable and had destroyed at least 150 structures, a number that was expected to get far bigger as firefighters are able to assess losses.

Air tankers that had been grounded much of the week because of high winds flew on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.

“We’re basically in an urban firefight in Ventura, where if you can keep that house from burning, you might be able to slow the fire down,” said Tim Chavez, a fire behaviour specialist at the blaze. “But that’s about it.”

___

Dalton reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press Writers Brian Melley, Robert Jablon, Michael Balsamo, John Antczak, Jae Hong and Reed Saxon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

___

For complete coverage of the California wildfires, click here: https://apnews.com/tag/Wildfires

Amanda Lee Myers And Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Safety concerns dominate North Road meeting

Residents voice concern over Canfor’s proposal

Critics charge mayor has conflict of interest

Mayor discounts claims, says it’s about public safety

Finding a balance between economy and environment

For Pete Erickson, a happy medium is key

Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief and Council sign on for Coastal GasLink

Many factors looked at regarding proposed pipeline project

Hot, dry weather in forecast increases wildfire risk

BC Wildfire Service urges public to stay vigilant with fire

Black Press Media to launch Pipeline Full of Controversy series

Series covers Trans Mountain’s history, science, Indigenous reaction, politics and economics

Abbotsford high school teacher charged with sexual offences involving two youths

Henry Kang, 50, charged with two counts each sex assault and sexual exploitation

Toronto Raptors star to hold basketball camp in B.C.

DeMar DeRozan is hosting a four-day camp for players aged 6-16 at the University of Victoria

Military college students accused of violating Qur’an with bacon

Alleged acts by four cadets from the Royal Military College in Quebec caught on video

Canucks sign top prospect Elias Pettersson to entry-level deal

Slick centre drafted No. 5 overall in 2017 NHL draft

Wildfire northwest of Kamloops jumps to 1,600 hectares overnight

Ground crews and aircraft are responding to an estimated 1,600 hectare wildfire approximately 55 kilometers northwest of Kamloops, near the Deadman Vidette Road.

Former B.C. police chief dies in ATV accident

Ex-Nelson top cop began his career in Vancouver

Referendum in Ireland would repeal strict ban on abortion

Voters throughout Ireland have begun casting votes in a referendum that may lead to a loosening of the country’s strict ban on most abortions.

Lava from Hawaii volcano enters ocean from 3 flows

The Kilauea volcano has been gushing lava on the big island of Hawaii for the past three weeks.

Most Read