Damaging toll of S. California fire siege comes into focus

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Breaking News – California (NEWZ247) The powerful Santa Ana winds that fueled a five-day fire siege across Southern California this week began to ease Friday, but the destructive toll of the blazes continued to grow and firefighters will remain on high alert through the weekend.

The fires, which stretched from Ojai to Oceanside, destroyed more than 500 structures and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The smoke created air quality problems that officials said reached unprecedented levels in some areas.

As hot, dry Santa Anas faded, officials warned that breezes from the ocean could pick up, changing the direction of the flames, placing fire crews at higher risk of getting caught without an escape route.

A red flag warning a combination of extremely low relative humidity and wind speeds that indicates a serious threat if a fire were to occur — is in effect through Sunday evening, said Tom Fisher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

President Trump on Friday approved a California emergency declaration, ordering federal aid to the area and putting the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of relief efforts.

In northern San Diego County, the Lilac fire — which ignited Thursday off Interstate 15 forced large swaths of Bonsall and Oceanside to evacuate. More than 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, which held at 4,100 acres from the night before with 15% containment.

The Lilac fire destroyed at least 105 structures, including a number of mobile homes, authorities said Friday. Three people were injured, and 25 horses were killed at a thoroughbred training center.

In Los Angeles County, firefighters on Thursday night took advantage of the calmest winds they had seen in days.The 15,619-acre Creek fire near Sylmar was 70% contained as of Friday night. At least 56 residences and 49 other structures were destroyed and an additional 45 residences and 25 other structures damaged.

The 475-acre Skirball fire in Bel-Air was 50% contained. Six houses were destroyed.

The Thomas fire in Ventura County was still the largest, spanning 143,000 acres from Santa Paula to the coast, with significant growth north of Ojai. It was 10% contained as of Friday night and had destroyed 476 structures.

More than 87,000 people had been evacuated because of the Thomas fire alone.

On Friday, the Ventura County medical examiner’s office identified a body found at the site of a car accident on Wheeler Canyon Road on Wednesday night as 70-year-old Virginia Pesola of Santa Paula, the only death in the Thomas fire to date.

She died of blunt-force injuries with terminal smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, officials said. The death is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol and the Major Crimes Unit of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

Besides the flames, there was another major issue for residents to contend with: terrible air quality.Pollution in Ojai was off the charts, said Phil Moyer, an air quality specialist with the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District.

“It’s the highest reading we’ve seen. It’s crazy numbers,” Moyer said.

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