• Monday, Oct 25, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:36 am

As winds relent, scorched California hopes for fire relief

  • Published at 09:11 pm December 10th, 2017
As winds relent, scorched California hopes for fire relief

Brutal winds that fuelled southern California wildfires finally began to ease on Saturday, giving residents and firefighters hope for a respite as the destructive toll of the blazes came into focus.

After a five-day siege, some Californians were finally able to return home to inspect the damage wrought by the wildfires, which forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee and destroyed more than 850 structures including multimillion dollar mansions.

Despite the intensity of the fires that raged on multiple different fronts, stretching from areas north of Los Angeles down to the San Diego region, authorities have reported only one fatality.

With gusts of up to 95kmph, relentless seasonal winds had continued to stoke the fires Friday, spitting embers and creating "extreme fire danger."

"There's still tons and tons of hot spots out there," Captain Jon Heggie of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said early Saturday.

The strongest winds are expected in the San Diego County mountains and foothills, with gusts over 90kmph, the NWS predicted.

Winds were expected to calm somewhat but a red alert was extended into Sunday due to expected low humidity.

And despite the easing of the winds, meteorologists warned that smoke and ash could linger, prompting several counties to maintain air-quality warnings.

'The new normal'

In the mountain town of Ojai the air-quality index was hovering over 500, at the top of the "hazardous" scale, as fumes from the "Thomas" fire hung trapped by the mountains.

Since erupting in Ventura County late Monday, that blaze has seared 155,000 acres and destroyed over 500 structures, but an area fire department spokesperson said Saturday containment should improve "after aggressive fire fighting" the day prior.

Governor Jerry Brown said many scientists believe more extreme fire seasons are part of the pinch of climate change.

"This is kind of the new normal. We're facing a new reality in this state where fires threatens people's lives, their property, their neighborhoods," Brown said at a fairgrounds briefing

"We know from changing climate that (fires) are going to exacerbate everything else (and) in the longer term, I think we have to think through how are we going to adjust ourselves to nature as it changes," Brown said, his approach a stark contrast to that of US president Donald Trump, a doubter of climate change.

"We can't expect nature to adjust to our needs," Brown added.

The material cost of fire suppression efforts has skyrocketed to some $17 million, Ventura officials estimated.

The "Skirball" fire, near the affluent, star-studded Bel Air district, was 75% contained after engulfing entire hillsides in flames and scorching over 400 acres.

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