Two fast-moving wildfires that exploded in the Southern California hills have claimed nine lives and forced thousands to flee their homes, including the entire city of Malibu, a sprawling naval base and many Hollywood celebrity homes.
Fanned by ferocious Santa Ana winds and fueled by dry tinder, the fires immolated a mountain town and jangled the nerves of many tens of thousands of residents forced to evacuate their homes.
The blazes thus far have proved to be unstoppable, operating at flash-flood velocity. The big wildfire here in Southern California, known as the “Woolsey Fire”, quadrupled in size by Friday evening, covering more than 22 square miles, with no containment.
It easily jumped eight-lane Highway 101 and rambled over the Santa Monica Mountains to posh Malibu, where it torched homes and cars. The wildfire then finally ran into its only match so far: the Pacific Ocean, the Washington Post reported.
The bulletins from the northern part of the state were even worse. At least nine people died in or near their homes or vehicles as they tried to outrace the “Camp Fire” that started on Thursday morning, has devastated the mountain town of Paradise, about 90 miles north of the state capital, Sacramento.
Among the celebrity homes reportedly damaged — if not destroyed — was the home of Caitlyn Jenner, who posted an Instagram video reporting that she was in a safe house, but wasn’t sure what has become of her home.
Other celebrities in southern California who have reported on social media that they were evacuated from their homes due to the fast-moving fires include Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West, her sister Kourtney Kardashian and Mark Hammill.
Among the properties destroyed by the Woolsey Fire was the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, where hundreds of movies and television shows, including HBO’s “Westworld”, have been filmed, stretching back to the 1920s.
The freeway was closed in both directions near the Liberty Canyon Road exit due to “very active fire conditions”, authorities said.
The California fire season normally begins in late spring and lasts through summer.
But hot, dry weather has persisted this year well into autumn, and the winter rains have yet to arrive. The Santa Ana winds, which blow out of the Sierra Nevadas and toward the western coastline, are building into howling gales that dry the vegetation and the soil, creating potentially explosive fire conditions.