Strong winds combined with a dry, hot season are making it hard to contain the blazes.
Even more fires engulfed Southern California Thursday evening as winds gusting up to 60 mph spread the flames, increasing the number homes and lives at risk.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported six major fires as of Friday morning. The smallest of these is the Liberty Fire in Riverside County at 300 acres, which ignited Thursday. The largest, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, spans 132,000 acres and has been burning since Monday.
The total torched area from fires this month now tops 158,000 acres, or 248 square miles, roughly half the area of the city of Los Angeles. The fires have scorched hillsides, dozens of destroyed properties, and smoke-shrouded highways in the state’s worst fire season ever.
No deaths from the fires have been reported, but officials are investigating a body found Wednesday night in Ventura at a crash site after an evacuation order.
Here is the smoke dispersion forecast for Friday. Smoke could impact coastal sections of Orange and San Diego County on Friday. #cawx pic.twitter.com/yajEkeVthI
— NWS San Diego (@NWSSanDiego) December 8, 2017
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Tuesday and asked President Trump for a presidential emergency declaration on Thursday as the fires burn through one of the most populated parts of the county.
Los Angeles County has more than 10 million residents, San Diego County is home to 3.3 million, Riverside County has 2.1 million denizens, and Ventura County is home to 850,000.
The National Weather Service warned this week that winds could get as high as 80 mph — in the range of a Category 1 hurricane — which was the first time the agency has activated the purple level threat warning in the state.
According to ABC News, “Winds are expected to die down slightly on Friday before picking up again in intensity on Saturday.”
The fires have already forced more than 120,000 people from across the region to flee as embers skipped across highways, making a hellish commute for Angelenos.
Not the typical morning commute… pic.twitter.com/kJIOQeqsIK
— A. Mutzabaugh CMT (@WLV_investor) December 6, 2017
Hundreds of schools in the region closed down because of the flames, and the University of California Los Angeles canceled classes Wednesday afternoon.
The Creek Fire near Sylmar, has already burned more than 15,000 acres since it ignited in the darkness Tuesday morning, triggering evacuation orders affecting more than 120,000 people.
— Michael Dubron (@MichaelDubron) December 5, 2017
Meanwhile, the Thomas Fire in Ventura has forced 27,000 people to flee after consuming 132,000 acres and 150 structures. Officials report the fire is only 10 percent contained as of Friday morning.
Trouble in Paradise: The #ThomasFire looming over Ventura as seen from #SantaBarbara this evening. Dangerous #SantaAna winds this week. #Ventura #SantaPaula #WildFire
A post shared by Sundance Beach (@sundancebeach) on
Farther north, 1,200 homes were evacuated as the Rye Fire torched 6,000 acres and is 35 percent contained.
WOW! Check out this picture of the #RyeFire burning in Valencia near Magic Mountain. (Photo courtesy: Dustin Bright) pic.twitter.com/dzNL5NAc8S
— 23ABC News (@23ABCNews) December 5, 2017
Flames from the Skirball Fire swiftly consumed 475 acres near Sepulveda Pass Wednesday morning, shutting down the 405 Freeway and threatening multimillion-dollar homes in Bel Air.
#BREAKING Fire right along the 405 freeway. Southbound open, northbound closed @ABC7 #abc7eyewitness pic.twitter.com/35G4gxFK6b
— Josh Haskell (@abc7JoshHaskell) December 6, 2017
Firefighters have been able to stop some of the smaller fires. The Little Mountain Fire in San Bernardino engulfed more than 260 acres, but officials report that it is 100 percent contained as of Wednesday.
#BREAKING Evacuations lifted for 100-acre Little Mountain area fire in San Bernardinohttps://t.co/hiRORQtlV3 pic.twitter.com/Vu2QVdFZ27
— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) December 6, 2017
But new fires are still starting. The Lilac Fire in San Diego County has already burned 4,100 acres since igniting Thursday morning.
A heartbreaking sight. The fast-moving #LilacFire ripped through structures in #Bonsall, burning homes in the San Luis Rey Mobile Home Park. #NBC7
A post shared by NBC 7 San Diego (@nbcsandiego) on
And the Liberty Fire in Riverside County spread over 300 acres since igniting Thursday afternoon.
#LIVE: #LibertyFire burning dangerously close to homes in Murrieta area https://t.co/TxMSbTKVFr pic.twitter.com/1AF4BXha79
— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) December 7, 2017
Unusually stiff seasonal Santa Ana winds are driving the flames of the active fires over hills and through dry brush, making it almost impossible for the more than 1,000 deployed firefighters to contain the blazes.
“The prospects for containment really are not good. Mother Nature is going to decide when we have the ability to put it out, because it is pushing hard with the wind,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a press conference Monday night.
This devastation has been years in the making, as Californians have kept building homes in high-risk areas. Meanwhile, record heat this summer following a wet winter left much of the state buried in dry kindling.
Last month, tens of thousands of Californians fled flames and smoke from the deadly record wine country fires in the northern part of the state. The United States as a whole has suffered the second-worst fire season on record, with more than 9.1 million acres burned this year so far.