Wildfires Close Hundreds of Schools and Prompt 100,000 Evacuations, Even in the Heart of Los Angeles
By Ruben Vives and Jaclyn Cosgrove and Joseph Serna
The magnitude of the wildfire siege in parts of Southern California continued to worsen Wednesday, with more than 100,000 people forced from their homes and authorities warning of the return of dangerous winds on Thursday.
Fires continued Wednesday even as the Santa Ana winds that caused them to spread so much earlier in the week calmed down. But forecasters warn that's temporary and that the wind speeds will increase Thursday morning, with gusts of more than 50 mph likely.
In anticipation of the heavy winds, all Los Angeles Unified schools in the San Fernando Valley as well as 17 schools on the city's Westside will be closed for the rest of the week, district officials said Wednesday afternoon.
The decision closes at least 265 schools in neighborhoods affected by the wildfires raging in and near Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, firefighters and residents from Ventura County to Los Angeles used the calmer conditions to try to make headway in advance of Thursday's expected winds.
Brent Clark, 58, stood on the roof of his Faria Beach home in northern Ventura County and began watering it down. Not far away, past the railroad tracks and Highway 1, flames made their way down the hillsides as they burned through acres of chaparral.
Looking at the flames, Kay Clark, 58, turned her attention to a cypress tree across from their home.
"That tree worries me," she said.
"Everything depends on what the winds do," Brent Clark said.
On Tuesday night, residents of Faria Beach were told to evacuate as flames made their way over the ridge of the canyons and approached the small beach community.
Among those who evacuated was Joe Ruffner, 65.
"The wind was blowing north, south, sometimes it seemed like it was doing both at the same time," Ruffner said.
Nearby, Jim Petit, 82, used a generator to keep power flowing to his home. He said he put five gallons of gasoline into the generator that morning and was using a timer to keep track of how much it took and when he needed to refuel it.
Petit and Kay Clark shared one certainty.
"We're not out of it yet," Petit said.
"We're not out of it. We're still not out of the woods," she said.
Fears of more winds were also evident in the neighborhoods of Sylmar hit hard by the Creek fire.
That fire started about 4 a.m. Tuesday and quickly raced out of control as powerful Santa Ana winds pushed it toward houses below.
The fire has destroyed at least 30 homes and scorched 12,605 acres, authorities said.
As crews continue to fight the blaze, some residents are beginning to assess the damage to their foothill properties.
The blaze was 5% contained, and residents had been evacuated from an area covering more than 20 square miles. The fire jumped the 210 Freeway and burned in Shadow Hills to the south, where residents scrambled to evacuate hundreds of horses, alpacas and other animals. About 20 of the 30 homes that have burned were in Little Tujunga, Kagel and Lopez canyons, officials said.
Farther north, in Santa Clarita, firefighters were making significant gains against the Rye fire that had burned toward Magic Mountain on Tuesday afternoon. The fire briefly shut down access to the 5 Freeway from Highway 126 and triggered mandatory evacuations.
Roy DeFilippis, 69, and his wife, Yolanda, 66, were on vacation and excited to spend a nice, relaxing afternoon at a campground west of Santa Clarita when the Rye fire started.
The couple have been on a road trip for weeks, starting out at their home in Nova Scotia and traveling to Simi Valley to spend Thanksgiving with their daughter and her family.
Driving thousands of miles, they faced several challenges. Their RV broke down in Kingman, Ariz., and again as they were traveling in California toward Simi Valley. Roy DeFilippis almost lost control going down a mountain.
On Tuesday afternoon, he was watching TV, considering whether to drink more coffee or switch to cold beer.
"And all of a sudden, we hear sirens and sirens, and police came out and told us we had to evacuate," he said.
Walking out of their RV, the couple saw flames as tall as their motor home.
They ditched the Honda Civic they'd been hauling. There was no time.
They ensured that their most precious cargo -- their eight Yorkies: Spike, Zoey, Lacey, Madison, Spencer, Mickey, Sammy and Snickers -- were in the RV, and they rushed onto Highway 126.
Late Wednesday morning, they were parked on a gravel lot between Santa Clarita and Fillmore, waiting until the campground was reopened at noon. They weren't sure whether their car survived.
But Roy DeFilippis, a retiree from Florida, felt that because they were safe from the fires, it just made for a good story to tell his friends.
"Life is a true adventure, isn't it?" he said.
The Rye fire has burned 7,000 acres and was 5% contained Wednesday. All evacuations and road closures have been lifted.
Times Staff Writers Anna M. Phillips, Joy Resmovits, Cindy Carcamo and Sonali Kohli contributed to this report.
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