Barely two months after fires charred Northern California’s wine country, the state is once again staring down a spate of wildfires, this time in Southern California. These fires are fueled by some of the strongest Santa Ana winds in recent memory. Here are some eye-popping numbers from these newest fires:
Growing huge …
The Thomas Fire, the largest of the blazes, is burning through Ventura County toward Los Angeles. The blaze is almost four times the size of the Tubbs Fire (36,807 acres), which was the most destructive of the fires in Napa and Sonoma counties in October.
Really fast …
The Thomas Fire is moving fast. It grew about 31,000 acres in about nine hours — that’s nearly an acre per second. That rate would burn through Manhattan’s Central Park in about 14 minutes. As of Friday evening, the fire had grown to 143,000 acres. While it’s nowhere nearly as large, the Lilac Fire 45 miles north of San Diego grew exponentially Thursday, from 100 acres to 4,100 in less than 12 hours. On Friday, the Lilac Fire was still 15% contained.
Los Angeles’ biggest
The Thomas Fire is the biggest in Los Angeles since the Bel-Air fire in 1961 torched scores of homes of the rich and famous.
Every day, firefighters in Los Angeles receive a brush burning index report that indicates the fire danger. If it’s 162 or higher, that’s considered extreme. The number for Thursday was 296, a record.
The last time the Santa Ana winds were this bad — with multiple days of warning level winds and red flags — was in October 2007. Wind gusts in Los Angeles and Ventura counties were to clock up to 60 mph by late Thursday, some higher in mountain areas. So the risk of the fires spreading remains high.
By Friday, 190,000 residents had been evacuated in Southern California.
In the dark
About 4,300 homes and businesses are without power. That’s a sliver of Southern California Edison’s 15 million customers, but those numbers could change because flames were burning along power transmission paths. The number earlier was 43,000 customers.
Smoke on the water
The smoke plume from the fires extends over 1,000 miles into the Pacific, which would stretch from New York to Miami.
This year has been the costliest for wildfires in the United States, with more than $10 billion in damages before the current Southern California fires began.