California wildfire wind conditions reach unprecedented level

More than 230,000 people have been evacuated and thousands of buildings are in danger of collapsing. 80,000 acres of land have been destroyed. It's the second time in two months California has been hit by wildfires.

The California wildfires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and left a hazardous haze over the region, and unprecedented wind levels were set to worsen the situation on Thursday.

Catastrophe | 06.12.2017

About 230,000 people have been asked to evacuate from the area and the fire has destroyed almost 200 homes and buildings. This number is expected to grow.

Read more: California burns in wildfires driven by wind and drought

USA Brände bei Los Angeles

A home engulfed in flames in the San Fernando Valley.

This is the second time in two months that wildfires have devastated Californian communities, leaving hundreds of homes feared lost and displacing tens of thousands of people. In October, fires killed 44 people and destroyed 8,900 structures in California's Napa and Sonoma counties.

The largest and most damaging fire is the "Thomas" fire, which started in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles. More than two dozen horses have died and at least 150 structures have been lost. The fires have destroyed about 80,000 acres (32,000 hectares) in just over a day since the "Thomas" fire started.

Air tankers that had been grounded for most of Tuesday flew and dropped flame retardant on Wednesday while firefighters rushed to tame fires before the winds picked up again.

Weather conditions set to worsen blaze

The color-coded system that indicates the expected strength of the winds driving the California wildfires had reached uncharted levels, going past the red level meaning "high” to purple, which means "extreme."

"The forecast for tomorrow is purple,” said Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire protection. "We've never used purple before.”

The purple wind level, which can see winds reach almost 130 kilometres [80 miles] an hour, could erase the hard work of firefighters. These conditions could turn a small fire into a large one or even carry embers that could start a fire in a different area.

"There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds." Pimlott said.

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Smoke rises from a home damaged by fire in Bel Air.

Little flame was visible late Tuesday but a new fire erupted early Wednesday morning on the slopes of Sepulvada Pass, which closed a section of the heavily used Interstate 405 and destroyed four homes in Los Angeles' Bel-Air neighbourhood. The fire also reached an estate and winery owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

1,800 firefighters and a fleet of aircraft were fighting the flames, but the blaze was only 5-percent contained and an estimated 12,000 buildings were in danger.

In the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, the Creek Fire destroyed at least 30 homes, blackened more than 12,000 acres (4,800 hectares) and forced the evacuation of 2,500 homes and a convalescent center. Another fire, known as the Rye Fire, threatened more than 5,000 homes and structures northwest of Los Angeles.

The Ventura fire had spread along the coast to the west and up into the mountains around the community of Ojai and the agricultural city of Santa Paula.

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Fire retardant

Air crews are dropping fire retardant to stop the spread of the wildfires that have killed dozens in California. The fires were fanned by high temperatures, dryness and gusting winds.

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Hazardous air quality

An aerial view shows wildfires spewing smoke northeast of Napa in California's wine district. Air quality in the Napa area is "very unhealthy" or "hazardous," according to US government agencies. Many of the reported injuries have been from smoke inhalation.

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Homes destroyed

Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed, including this neighborhood in Santa Rosa. The city of 175,000 people was one of the hardest hit.

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Wind driven fires

A helicopter drops fire retardant to prevent the spread of wind driven fires. Wild gusts that fueled the fires were up to 50 mph (80 kmh). Thousands of firefighters are battling around 20 rapidly spreading fires.

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Wineries burnt to the ground

Napa and Sonoma counties north of San Francisco are at the heart of California's famous wine industry. The bucolic scenery of forested hills and beautiful vineyards were turned into a black scarred landscape. Several wineries were burnt to the ground.

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Hot spots

One of thousands of firefighters deployed to the region puts out a hot spot as a fire rages in the background. In addition to putting out fires and stop them from spreading, emergency services are focused on evacuating people from the path of deadly destruction. At least 25,000 people have been evacuated.

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Intense heat

The intense heat of the wildfires has melted window frames and car tire rims, leaving many vehicles resting on their axles. Even the glass backboard of a basketball hoop melted due to the heat — dripping from the post and hardening like an icicle.

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Neighborhoods in ash

Two women sift through the remnants of a home in Napa after a wildfire roared through the neighborhood, killing an elderly couple. Officials say the death toll will likely continue to rise.

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The long road to recovery

The morning sun rises on a home in Orange, California after wildfires burned all but the chimneys. US President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in California while the House of Representatives approved a $36.5 billion disaster aid package that will help fire-ravaged California as well as hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas.

lw/ng (AP, Reuters)