New blaze erupts in wildfire-plagued Southern California

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — A dramatic new wildfire erupted in Los Angeles early Wednesday as firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California. Flames exploded before dawn on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, which carries heavily traveled Interstate 405 through the Santa Monica Mountains where ridge tops are covered with expensive homes. Firefighters were providing structure protection as helicopters flying in darkness made water drops on the flames on the east side of the pass. Northbound traffic was halted, but southbound lanes remained open.

Los Angeles County firefighters battle a wildfire in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Firefighters gather in front of a residential area as a wildfire burns along the 101 Freeway Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of homes and other structures Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A helicopter makes a water drop on hot spots after the Thomas fire swept through Ventura, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (Daniel Dreifuss via AP)

A water dropping helicopter flies over a hot spot on the Creek Fire in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A Los Angeles County firefighter puts water a burning house in a wildfire in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Ferocious winds in Southern California have whipped up explosive wildfires, burning a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures. Tens of thousands of people have been ordered evacuated. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A Los Angeles County firefighter pulls a hose to protect a house during wildfire in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A water dropping helicopter flies over a hot spot on the Creek Fire in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A Los Angeles County firefighter prepares to battle a hot spot on the “Creek Fire” in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A wildfire consumes a home Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of homes Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A burning ember flies through the air as winds fan a wildfire in Ventura, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A man watches flames consume a residence as a wildfire rages in Ventura, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Ferocious winds in Southern California have whipped up explosive wildfires, burning a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Firefighters put out a fire burning a home Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of homes Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Two residents watch from a rooftop as a home burns in a wildfire Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of homes Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A home owners battle hot spots on his roof on the “Creek Fire” in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

A wildfire threatens a home Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Ferocious winds in Southern California have whipped up explosive wildfires, burning a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Smoke rises from the smoldering remains of a building at Vista Del Mar Hospital after the Thomas Fire swept through Ventura, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)

Flames rise as a home is consumed by a wildfire Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Flames rise near a home as a wildfire burns in Ventura, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Ferocious winds in Southern California have whipped up explosive wildfires, burning a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

Smoke from the Creek wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains, the second range behind the Hollywood Hills, home of the Hollywood sign, looms up over Los Angeles Tuesday morning, Dec. 5, 2017 (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Flames consume vehicles as a wildfire rages in Ventura, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Flames consume a home on Via Arroyo as a wildfire rages in Ventura, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A firefighter tries to keep flames from spreading while battling a wildfire in Ventura, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A firefighter hoses down smoldering debris in Ventura, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Ferocious Santa Ana winds raking Southern California whipped explosive wildfires Tuesday, prompting evacuation orders for thousands of homes. (Daniel Dreifuss via AP)

A wildfire burns along the 101 Freeway Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of homes and other structures Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

A wildfire threatens homes as it burns along the 101 Freeway Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of homes and other structures Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Two spectators watch as a wildfire burns along the 101 Freeway Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of homes and other structures Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Wildfires driven by winds approaching hurricane force swept across Southern California Monday night into Tuesday, scorching thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of structures – from Ventura County to communities north of Los Angeles. (Dec. 5)

California’s wildfires continued to spread under the influence of strong winds on Tuesday. In video footage, cameras caught a horse galloping down a road in an attempt to save itself from the flames. (Dec. 5)

Authorities are urging tens of thousands of people to flee their homes as wind-driven wildfires scour communities northwest of Los Angeles. Two fires have burned about 30 homes and are being pushed by Santa Ana gusts. (Dec. 5)

Wildfires in Southern California have triggered evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. The fires remain mostly out of control. (Dec. 6)

Wildfires driven by winds approaching hurricane force swept across Southern California Monday night into Tuesday, scorching thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of structures – from Ventura County to communities north of Los Angeles. (Dec. 5)

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — A dramatic new wildfire erupted in Los Angeles early Wednesday as firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California.

Flames exploded before dawn on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, which carries heavily traveled Interstate 405 through the Santa Monica Mountains where ridge tops are covered with expensive homes.

Firefighters were providing structure protection as helicopters flying in darkness made water drops on the flames on the east side of the pass. Northbound traffic was halted, but southbound lanes remained open.

Hundreds of homes burned in the area during the famous Bel Air Fire of 1961. The Getty Center art complex, on the west side of the pass, employs extensive fire protection methods.

Elsewhere, use of firefighting aircraft has been constrained by the same winds that have spread the fires.

The water-dropping planes and helicopters essential to taming and containing wildfires have been mostly grounded because it’s too dangerous to fly them in the strong wind. Tuesday saw gusts of over 50 mph (80 kph).

A helicopter makes a water drop on hot spots after the Thomas fire swept through Ventura. (Daniel Dreifuss via AP)

Commanders hoped to have them back in the air on Wednesday morning, but all indications were that the winds will be whipping then too, fanning the flames that spurred evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people, destroyed nearly 200 homes and remained mostly out control.

“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”

Southern California’s Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.

The largest and most destructive of the fires, an 85-square-mile (220-sq. kilometer) wildfire in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles (48 kilometers) inland a day earlier.

The wildfire jumped the major artery U.S. Highway 101 to a rocky beach northwest of Ventura, bringing new evacuations, though officials said the sparse population and lack of vegetation in the area meant it was not overly dangerous, and the highway was not closed.

A wildfire burns along the 101 Freeway. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The fire had destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds more homes have already been lost, though firefighters have been unable to assess them.

Lisa Kermode and her children returned to their home Tuesday after evacuating Monday to find their home and world in ashes, including a Christmas tree and the presents they had just bought.

“We got knots in our stomach coming back up here,” Kermode said. “We lost everything, everything, all our clothes, anything that was important to us. All our family heirlooms — it’s not sort of gone, it’s completely gone.”

Mansions and modest homes alike were in flames in the city. Dozens of houses in one neighborhood burned to the ground.

Two residents watch from a rooftop as a home burns in a wildfire Tuesday in Ventura. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

John Keasler, 65, and his wife Linda raced out of their apartment building as the flames approached, then stood and watched the fire burn it to the ground.

“It is sad,” Keasler said. “We loved this place. We lost everything.”

Linda Keasler said they were just glad to be alive despite losing so much.

“Those things we can always get back,” she said. “The truth is it is just things and thank god no one died.”

Some 12,000 structures were under threat.

A spokesman for the American Red Cross says they expect a shelter in Ventura County to be at capacity Tuesday night.

Fred Mariscal says Red Cross officials expect about 400 people at the shelter Tuesday night.

He says the shelter is serving meals, providing a mobile shower truck and has doctors and nurses on hand to provide medication for residents who were displaced by the wildfire.

While the blazes brought echoes of the firestorm in Northern California that killed 44 people two months ago, no deaths and only a handful of injuries had been reported.

In the foothills of northern Los Angeles, 30 structures burned. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the gusty winds expected to last most of the week had created a dangerous situation and he urged 150,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders to leave their homes before it’s too late.

“We have lost structures, we have not lost lives,” he said. “Do not wait. Leave your homes.”

Fires are not typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region over the past six months.

Fires in suburban settings like these are likely to become more frequent as climate change makes fire season a year-round threat and will put greater pressure on local budgets, said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College who has written extensively about wildfires.

Flames rise near a home as a wildfire burns in Ventura on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

“There are going to be far greater numbers that are going to be evacuated, as we’re seeing now,” Miller said. “These fires are not just fast and furious, but they’re really expensive to fight.”

In LA County, television shows with large outdoor sets including HBO’s “Westworld” and CBS’s “S.W.A.T.” halted production of because of worries about the safety of cast and crew.

And the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, which hold workouts near the Ventura County fire, canceled practice Wednesday.

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Dalton reported from Los Angeles. Krysta Fauria in Santa Paula and Brian Melley, Robert Jablon, John Antczak, Chris Carlson and Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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For complete coverage of the California wildfires, click here: https://apnews.com/tag/Wildfires

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