Firefighters battle to take the upper hand against several wildfires scorching parts of Southern California

Mark Puleo

Firefighters battling blazes in Southern California made some headway Thursday in the effort to contain several major fires that have been disrupting life in the Los Angeles area this week.

Santa Ana winds are forecast to continue to decrease through the night and into Friday evening. But, the fire danger will not end.

"This [decrease in winds] will help firefighters some, but relative humidity levels will remain quite low and any fires ongoing will still have to battle that, keeping a higher-than-normal fire danger across the area," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert said.

A new fire, known as the Maria Fire, sparked near Santa Paula in Ventura County on Thursday evening around 6:15 p.m., local time. The fire exploded in size and was reported to have burned around 5,000 acres as of just hours later.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for approximately 7,500 residents in the area. The fire was 0% contained as of early Friday.

The fire caused some schools in Ventura County to close on Friday.

The Easy Fire, located in Simi Valley about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, has been anything but easy for crews to handle. After sparking early Wednesday morning near Easy Street, hence the name, the blaze rapidly grew from just 200 acres to more than 1,600 acres by Wednesday evening. By Thursday evening, the fire was 60% contained and had burned 1,806 acres.

The fire ignited near the 118 Freeway and Madera Road and quickly spread toward neighborhoods, forcing officials to enact widespread mandatory evacuations. According to Ventura County Fire Captain Steve Kaufmann, 7,000 homes were threatened by the blaze on Wednesday.

Evacuations also included the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, which is the largest presidential library in the nation.

Shortly after 3 p.m. PDT, California Highway Patrol announced flames jumped the 23 Freeway just north of Tierra Rejada Road. At least 800 firefighters are battling the Easy Fire, which is approximately 50 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Strong winds were reported in the area near the Easy Fire, including a 78 mph gust at Boney Mountain. A gust of that force is equivalent to the wind strength of a Category 1 hurricane.

The blaze initially spread toward and threatened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, coming dangerously close to the building. According to a representative from the library, a flock of goats "is what saved us today." Each year, the library brings in about 300 goats to eat flammable vegetation around the building.

Over 50 schools in the Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino county regions were closed on Thursday due to the blazes. Many schools in those areas are being used as evacuation centers.

By Thursday afternoon, all evacuations had been lifted on the Easy Fire.

On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state has secured a Fire Management Assistance Grant to help ensure the availability of resources to fight the Easy Fire burning in Ventura County.

"The continued real-time assistance provided as California grapples with fires across the state has been critical to our efforts to keep communities safe and reduce damages," said Newsom. "We are thankful to our federal, state and local partners for their extraordinary, collaborative response in this challenging time."

Just one day after the Easy Fire drew widespread concern, a new brush fire in San Bernardino, named the Hillside Fire, ignited on Thursday morning and quickly grew in severity. This second, fast-growing wildfire quickly forced evacuations before firefighters were able to rein the 200-acre fire into 50% containment by midday Thursday.

"This fire spread downhill very rapidly through the night and into the early morning hours," Kathleen Obliger, interim deputy chief of operations of San Bernardino, said in a press conference on Thursday morning.

The San Bernardino County Fire Department (SBCFD) first responded to the blaze at 2:10 a.m., local time, and found three acres of fire. By 4:40 a.m., more than 300 firefighting personnel were on the scene. Fire crews conducted an aerial assault on the fire by unleashing water drops by helicopter throughout the night.

By 1 p.m., local time, the Hillside Fire had grown to 200 acres and had jumped from 1% contained to 50% contained with 500 total personnel assigned to the blaze.

Obliger confirmed in the press conference that six structures have been destroyed thus far. Due to the vast number of wildfires currently blazing in the state, counties have had to compete for the resources they need to properly fight the fires.

A video posted to social media showed firefighters battling the raging fires in a neighborhood that had been turned into a hellish landscape, with numerous homes on fire and smoke and embers filling the dark sky all while powerful winds whipped through the area.

Although approximately 490 homes remain under mandatory evacuation, impacting around 1,300 people, according to InciWeb. Highway 18, which had previously had an area shut down due to the fire, is scheduled to reopen.

While the destructive Getty Fire hasn't grown as fast as the Easy Fire or nearly as massive as the Kincade Fire, it has threatened one of the most populous regions in the country. Since igniting on Monday morning, the inferno has threatened the Brentwood and Westside communities in Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters that the cause for the ignition of the blaze was wind that blew dried tree branches onto power lines.

A civilian vehicle traveling on the Sepulveda Pass caught the initial flash on a dashcam.

According to Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Public Information Officer Erik Scott, "There is no evidence of arson or an intentionally set fire and there is no evidence of a homeless encampment in the fire's area of origin."

According to the LAFD, at least 12 structures have been destroyed by the Getty Fire and the blaze was at 745 acres with 52% containment as of Thursday evening. More than 7,000 residences are in the Mandatory Evacuation Zone and should be considered threatened.

"Overnight, crews and aircraft worked to contain wind-driven spot fires and flare-ups within the current fire perimeter," LAFD said in a Wednesday morning statement. "Adverse weather conditions will be the biggest challenge for firefighters today. An Extreme Red Flag Warning remains in effect throughout the day today and into tomorrow."

The 46 Fire, which has burned 300 acres in Riverside California with only 5% containment as of Thursday, has a bit of a more unique start than these other fires.

The fire had been caused by a stolen vehicle that had been involved in a pursuit on Thursday morning, police told KTLA.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, police had attempted to pull over a stolen vehicle, only for it to end in a chase into an empty field. Two people fled from the car, but they were apprehended.

Police suspect that heat from the stolen vehicle's wheels ignited, leading to the car- and then the field- catching fire, according to a Facebook post from the Riverside Police Department.

CAL Fire Arson Investigators will be charging the driver with arson violations related to the cause of the fire, according to the post.

Meanwhile, California's largest fire of the year, the Kincade Fire, continues to wreak havoc in Northern California. Since igniting last week in Sonoma County, the blaze has spread to 77,758 acres and is at 65% containment according to Cal Fire.

The massive fire has destroyed 282 structures, including a historic winery, as more than 5,000 personnel assigned to the blaze have struggled against strong winds. Since the Kincade Fire began, nearly 200,000 people have been forced from their homes.

According to Cal Fire, over 90,000 structures remain threatened as of Thursday morning. The expected date of containment for the blaze is Nov. 7.

"Fire personnel made good progress in their fire fighting efforts overnight due to favorable weather conditions," Cal Fire said in an update on Thursday morning. "Access to the northern part of the fire remains challenging because of steep terrain and narrow roads, but firefighters will continue to build on the progress they made today with even more control lines being established."

Hundreds of thousands of residents have had to deal with power shutoffs from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Starting on Oct. 26, more than 900,000 customers had their power shut off for safety purposes. While 57% of those customers had power restored by Monday, another 605,000 customers had their power cut on Tuesday.