The Wall Street Journal: Southern California stunned by spread of wildfires: ‘We weren’t prepared’

LOS ANGELES — Payam Manavi, standing in front of his blackened childhood home in Bel-Air on Thursday, surveyed the damage left by the fires that have raced across Southern California this week: collapsed ceilings, a destroyed attic and extensive damage from water used by firefighters.

His mother had managed to escape the morning before as flames closed in. “We weren’t prepared,” he said.

Across the greater Los Angeles area on Thursday, many found themselves surprised to be evacuating for a wildfire, or driving into dense smoke surrounded by walls of orange flame on morning commutes in a major city. Fueled by historic drought, 80-mph gusts have carried embers for miles, causing fires sparked in thick brush to alight in neighborhoods that haven’t burned in years, or ever.

In Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, the largest blaze in the region grew to 96,000 acres and continued to advance toward populated areas in Ojai, an renowned retreat. The fire has torched more than 100 homes along the Ventura County coast and sent more than 100,000 people across Southern California people fleeing.

As firefighters struggled to control the fire burning near Bel-Air and further north in Sylmar, new fires popped up. A fire that broke out in Malibu in the morning was quickly contained. Hours later, a brush fire that ignited north of San Diego grew to consume 500 acres in three hours. Fire conditions eased somewhat Thursday as winds subsided, but top fire officials say they expect the hazardous fire weather to continue for days.

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

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