Crews Battling California Wildfires Gird for Return of High Winds

VENTURA, Calif. (Reuters) —
Firefighters attack the Thomas Fire’s north flank with backfires as they continue to fight a massive wildfire north of Los Angeles, near Ojai, California, Dec. 9. (Reuters/Gene Blevins)

Santa Ana winds that have stoked wildfires across Southern California, destroying hundreds of buildings and forcing evacuations of some 200,000 people, are forecast to return in force on Sunday, authorities said.

Firefighters had gained some ground battling the fires that have burned over the past week as the winds eased on Saturday. At least one person has been killed.

The Skirball Fire in Los Angeles was 75 percent contained, while the Creek and Rye Fires in Los Angeles County were 80 percent and 65 percent contained, officials said.

The largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, has blackened 155,000 acres in Ventura County and was 15 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)said in a statement on Saturday night.

Winds and the rugged terrain have hampered firefighting efforts there, authorities said.

“The fire continues to threaten structures in various parts of the cities of Ventura, Ojai, Casitas Springs, Santa Paula, Carpinteria, Fillmore and the unincorporated areas of Ventura County and Matilija Canyon,” Cal Fire said in a Saturday night update on its website.

Authorities also lifted evacuation orders on Saturday for sections of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

But the National Weather Service is forecasting top wind speeds to increase to 55 miles per hour on Sunday, up from the 40 miles per hour recorded on Saturday.

The blazes have destroyed nearly 800 structures, and a 70-year-old woman died Wednesday in a car accident as she attempted to flee the flames in Ventura County.

Virginia Pesola died of “blunt force injuries with terminal smoke inhalation and thermal injuries,” Ventura County Medical Examiner Christopher Young said.

North of San Diego, the 4,100-acre Lilac Fire was 50 percent contained by Saturday, officials said.

A brush fire broke out Saturday night in the city of Monrovia in Los Angeles County, prompting temporary evacuations, the U.S. Forest Service said on Twitter.

Crews knocked down the 3-acre blaze and there were “no structures damaged,” the city of Monrovia said on its website.

California Governor Jerry Brown issued emergency proclamations last week for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, freeing up additional resources to fight the fires.

President Donald Trump issued a federal proclamation that enables agencies to coordinate relief efforts.

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