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California Fires Reach Millionaire Mansions in Bel Air

LOS ANGELES – Residents of the area northwest of Los Angeles on Wednesday spent an anxious day as four wildfires forced authorities to block roads, close schools and evacuate thousands after dozens of buildings went up in flames, including millionaire mansions in Beverly Hills’ exclusive Bel Air neighborhood.

The very dry conditions in the region, with winds gusting up to 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour, are nourishing the flames threatening the Getty Museum, which was forced to close, along with a 15-km stretch along heavily-traveled Highway 405.

The fires destroyed several homes in Bel Air, including a $30 million mansion owned by communications mogul Rupert Murdoch, according to NBC News, and the dense smoke from the blazes could be seen rising beyond the iconic Hollywood hillside sign.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a press conference that the flames in Bel Air had affected 60 hectares (150 acres), thus tripling the land affected since they broke out Tuesday morning in an area in which 350 firefighters are working.

That fire, which has consumed a total of 4,576 hectares (11,300 acres), has forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 residents, destroying at least 30 homes and forcing dozens of schools to remain closed.

In addition, three other fires in Los Angeles County are continuing to spread, fed by the so-called Santa Ana Winds that are prevalent in the area at this time of year.

The most powerful fire began Monday afternoon in Ventura County, some 100 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles, and so far it has burned some 26,325 hectares (65,000 acres).

This fire, which forced the evacuation of more than 50,000 homes, led local authorities to decree a curfew to protect local residents and prevent criminal acts.

The Ventura County Fire Department reported on Wednesday that about 1,800 firefighters are battling blazes that are threatening some 12,000 structures, although more than 150 have already been destroyed.

The weather conditions will continue to favor the spread of the fires through Friday across most of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, according to the National Weather Service.

VCFD spokesman Robert Welsbie told EFE that his department is facing “extremely difficult conditions” on the ground, especially due to the winds and dry weather.

President Donald Trump posted a Twitter message on Wednesday supporting those who have been affected by the fires saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of California’s wildfires. I encourage everyone to heed the advice and orders of local and state officials. THANK YOU to all First Responders for your incredible work!”

Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties and insisted that residents in those areas must evacuate from at-risk zones.

This has been the worst year for forest and wildfires since records have been kept in California, with 250 fires being registered in October in several northern counties that devastated parts of the well-known Napa and Sonoma wine-producing areas.

Those fires killed 44 people and destroyed about 8,900 homes and structures, the California Department of Safety and Fire Protection reported.


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