The Wall Street Journal: New blaze threatens Bel Air homes, as thousands more flee Southern California wildfires

LOS ANGELES — A series of large fires across Southern California continued to grow Wednesday, leading to the closure of schools and a major freeway and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

In Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, flames chewed through downtown Ventura and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. In Los Angeles, a fire sparked early Wednesday morning threatened some of the country’s most expensive real estate.

Fire officials expected conditions to worsen over the next several days, with wind gusts expected to pick up dramatically — up to 80 mph. The conditions would be so dire that state fire officials said they declared the fire danger at the highest level: extreme. “These will be winds that there will be no abilities to fight fires,” said Ken Pimlott director of Cal Fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “This is about evacuations.”

Read: Insurance losses from October’s Wine Country wildfires top $9 billion

Videos on social media showed motorists on the busy 405 freeway driving toward hillsides that were completely engulfed in flames. The freeway reopened Wednesday afternoon. The Getty Center museum and Skirball Cultural Center both closed for the day, as have dozens of Los Angeles area schools, as thick plumes of smoke obscured the skyline. Some residents of Bel Air, home to celebrities and millionaires such as Elon Musk, have been ordered to evacuated.

Fires across Southern California this week have already consumed more than 80,000 acres, fueled by Santa Ana winds and months with little rain that left brush across the region dry and ready to burn. More than 4,000 firefighters were working to control the blazes, but the major fires were still at little or no containment, and fire officials said the high winds and low humidity were likely to last at least until Friday.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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