By Michael Hernandez
Thousands of firefighters who have been deployed to Los Angeles and its surrounding areas are facing an uphill battle against four major fires fueled by strong winds and dry conditions, authorities said Thursday.
The seasonal winds, known as Santa Anas, have diminished after gusting overnight to more than 50 mph (80 kph).
Coupled with low humidity, the winds have propelled the infernos as firefighters struggle to keep pace.
Hundreds of structures have already been lost to the flames and thousands of residents have been ordered to evacuate.
To the northwest of Los Angeles, the largest fire is threatening to overtake small coastal towns and communities. The Thomas fire has already overrun 96,000 acres and is only 5 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.
Without a change to weather conditions, the Thomas fire could burn for weeks, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said.
“Until the wind stops blowing, there’s really not a lot we can do as far as controlling the perimeter, so our opportunities are hopefully going to come in tomorrow as the wind lets up," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "This is a fight we’re going to be fighting probably for a couple of weeks.”
A once predictable wildfire season for the area appears to have vanished and is now present year-round, Lorenzen said, pointing to years of drought and climate change.
The Thomas fire is now racing toward Santa Barbara County.
Closer to Los Angeles, first responders have been able to make some gains against the 475-acre Skirball fire that is threatening the wealthy neighborhood of Bel-Air. It was 20 percent contained Thursday morning, officials said.
One firefighter was injured battling the blaze, Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters.
A fifth fire that started in Malibu on Thursday was quickly contained, the Times reported.