Relentless Santa Ana winds continue to fan devastating California wildfires

Wildfire forces thousands to flee homes north of Los Angeles

A major Santa Ana weather event with wind gusts between 70 and 80 miles per hour, and low relative humidity are to blame for the Skirball fire, which is threatening Los Angeles' affluent Bel Air neighborhood, officials said.

"By late tomorrow night into Thursday, those Santa Ana winds are expected to increase again in strength", Todd Durham, the incident commander for CalFire Incident Management Team Four, said on Tuesday night.

The Thomas fire has burned at least 65,000 acres. As many as 150 buildings have been destroyed by the blaze, with many more yet to be counted.

The Los Angeles Fire Department has deployed hundreds of firefighters and called in helicopters and airplanes. Health officials warned people in the heavily populated San Fernando Valley and other parts of the northern Los Angeles area to limit their time outdoors.

As beleaguered Southern California firefighters confronted yet another new brush fire on Wednesday morning, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said his crews are exhausted. That could stoke several blazes burning in the Los Angeles area that have already caused, according to local media, about 200,000 people to evacuate.

One firefighter suffered a minor injury while he and 1,000 battled to save homes from being swept away by the wall of fire.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a state of emergency in the city while 11 Los Angeles Unified schools cancelled Wednesday classes.

"The forecast for [Thursday] is purple", Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said last night, referring to the only color above red on the wind scale.

When the Ventura fire broke out Monday evening, the winds were so strong that water-dropping aircraft were grounded and firefighters on the ground could not keep up with the pace of the flames.

The threat of the Rye Fire to Simi Valley has been reduced due to overnight firefighting efforts, Simi Valley police said Wednesday.

"Our fire situation is certainly reduced enough that we can certainly allow those resources to be deployed", said the Public Information Officer with the Oregon State Fire Marshal, Rich Hoover.

The cities of Ventura and Santa Paula - 70 miles north of Los Angeles - have been the worse affected areas, and have now been completely evacuated. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.

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