CALIFORNIA

Fast-moving Easy Fire expands to 1.300 acres in Simi Valley

A large brush fire erupted in Simi Valley early Wednesday and was quickly burning toward neighborhoods, triggering mandatory evacuations amid strong Santa Ana winds.

The Easy fire, which started near the 118 Freeway and Madera Road shortly after 6 a.m., has chewed through 1,300 acres of dry, dense brush and is threatening 6,500 homes, Ventura County Fire Capt. Steve Kaufmann said.

Portions of Simi Valley, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks are under mandatory evacuation orders. The evacuation area is bounded by the 118 Freeway to the north, Olsen Road/Madera Road to the south, Madera Road to the east and Highway 23 to the west. The area bordered by Highway 23, Moorpark Road, Read Road and East Olsen Road and a third area bordered by Santa Rosa Road, Andalusia Drive, Moorpark Road and Andalusia Drive are also under mandatory evacuation orders.

It is not clear how the fire started.

The blaze is burning near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Thick smoke choked the hillside where the 125,000-square-foot complex – a repository of records and artifacts from the Reagan administration – is perched amid dense brush. Flames burned on all sides, but the library has not sustained damage, officials said.

Helicopters repeatedly dropped loads of water behind the library in 60-mph winds, turning the flames into smoke on a ridge 300 feet below. Amid wind gusts strong enough to knock a person off balance, two super-scooper planes dipped down behind the library before unleashing such a volume of water it created its own rainbow.

Video from the scene showed wind-whipped flames rapidly consuming a large swath of hillside in the area as residents fled from their homes.

As the fire swept down the ridge toward Roosevelt Court, an off-duty LAPD officer wearing a raid jacket began yelling, alerting residents that the fire was coming down the hill. Tensions immediately heightened as the flames became visible to homeowners.

Rory Kaplan has lived on Roosevelt since the homes were built there in 2001.

CALIFORNIA

Getty Fire reaches 15 percent containment; 12 homes burned

With extreme red flag warnings issued amid powerful winds, firefighters were hoping to increase containment of the Getty fire in Brentwood on Wednesday and prevent it from flaring up.

The fire, which burned 12 homes Monday, was 15% contained and had scorched more than 600 acres. About 7,000 homes remained evacuated.

The Getty fire broke out shortly after 1:30 a.m. Monday along the 405 Freeway near the Getty Center and spread to the south and west.

It was started by a tree branch that fell on power lines, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday evening. Video shows the branch breaking off a eucalyptus tree and sparking the fire in the 1900 block of North Sepulveda Boulevard.

The power lines are operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, according to a fire official. The agency said it was cooperating with the investigation.

DWP General Manager Marty Adams said the utility had cleared brush along the Sepulveda Pass in July. The DWP also said in a statement that there was “no failure of electrical equipment.”

Unlike Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, the state’s largest power providers, the DWP does not shut off service to customers before or during a wind event, in part because the utility covers an urban area.

“Our systems are completely different,” Andrew Kendall, senior assistant manager of the DWP’s power system, said at a board meeting earlier this month. “We have a 465-square-mile service territory. PG&E’s is 70,000 square miles, Edison is 50,000 square miles.”

Kendall said the DWP is “in an area where we’re no more than a five- to seven-minute LAFD response. So right now, at this time and based on previous history, we don’t feel we’re at a point where it’s prudent to do a shutdown.”

CALIFORNIA

Kincade Fire containment grows to 30 percent

Firefighters have battled three major bouts of winds that fiercely pushed back their efforts to get a handle on the flames in the massive Kincade fire, but they’re now facing an easier road.

Containment of the fire, which grew slightly to 76,825 acres, doubled overnight to 30% as of Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“The eastern part of the fire was active overnight, but firefighters continued to make forward progress as a whole,” even amid the final strong wind event of the week, according to fire and weather officials.

Tuesday night, winds in high terrain reached 60 mph, and in the valleys where the fire is burning, winds blew up to 30 mph, said Spencer Tangen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. By Wednesday morning, the winds had already begun to slow.

“We’re not expecting another wind similar to what we’ve seen, at least until mid next week,” Tangen said. That will likely help firefighters continue to make progress.

Jonathan Cox, a Cal Fire spokesman, said Tuesday that firefighters were bracing for a challenging evening.

“If we are looking good as far as fire growth this time tomorrow morning, I feel like that cautious optimism will be solidified,” he said. “If we’re not, if we have explosive growth tonight, we have our work cut out for us.”

The outcome was in their favor, likely because gusts in the valleys near where the Kincade fire was burning were not as strong and this wind event was weaker than previous ones overall, Tangen said.

Despite the fire’s massive scale and the large number of structures that have been damaged – 94 homes have been destroyed – there have been no deaths reported in the blaze. Fire officials say that’s partly because of a proactive approach and vast evacuation zones that have taken many out of harm’s way.

CALIFORNIA

Inside the battle to save the Reagan Library

When the Easy fire erupted early Wednesday morning in Simi Valley, the stakes of this particular firefight quickly came into focus:

Save the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The predawn blaze, stoked by strong easterly winds, was racing toward the hilltop compound surrounded by nearly 100 acres of rolling grasslands.

Long vulnerable to wildfire, the library had taken efforts to protect the facility – where Ronald and Nancy Reagan are buried – but this particular assault was unprecedented.

Maneuvering amid 60-mph winds, helicopters circled, unleashing their water drops behind the library. Two super-scooper planes swooped low to hit the advancing flames with such an inundation that it created a rainbow in the morning sun.

Every two minutes, a new rotation of choppers or super-scoopers dipped into the canyon behind the library, turning fire into smoke.

“They are getting beat up good, those pilots,” said JD Nees, who flew helicopters for the Navy Reserve. With wind gusts reaching 60 mph – strong enough to knock a person off the feet – the choppers bounced and danced in the unpredictable turbulence.

A hand crew crested the hill, the inmates working to tamp down the smoldering soil. “That’s a good sign,” Nees said.

When library planners selected the site in 1987, its location in eastern Ventura County was undeveloped and praised for its views of the adjoining mountains and its Western disposition, isolated and scenic.

But its rural character brought with it the inherent risk of wildfire. After the firestorms of 2017, 300 goats were brought in to help reduce the excessive fuel load, part of the county’s vegetation management program.

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