Flames lapped over the the highway barriers of one of Los Angeles’ busiest thoroughfares Wednesday as firefighters struggled to contain the blaze, threatening billions of dollars worth of property as smoke blocked out the sun.
So far, the Skirball fire has spread over 150 acres centered around Bel Air, a neighborhood packed with multimillion-dollar homes, including Rupert Murdoch’s, which reportedly burned down Wednesday. The Los Angeles Fire department issued a mandatory evacuation order for more than 200,000 people in the area east of Interstate 405, the major road for commuters going in and out of Los Angeles. The shutdown in both directions jammed the evacuation routes, and portions of two other major roads — the 210 and the 5 — are also closed down causing widespread traffic jams.
At least 350 firefighters are currently working to contain the wildfire, which is still zero percent contained, and just one of several fires currently blazing in the area that prompted California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Tuesday.
The Skirball fire is currently burning just across the freeway from the Getty Museum, which bought about $100 million in new art in July, including Michelangelo drawings. The museum was closed to the public Wednesday, but despite the apocalyptic scene, Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the LA Times the museum is actually the “safest place for the art” thanks to air filtration systems in place to protect the art from smoke damage.
“Our greatest concern is for our neighbors,” Hartwig said.
And things do look ominous.
And the state’s firefighters have their work cut out for them with two other fires raging in the Los Angeles area, the Thomas fire in Ventura, California, a seaside city northwest of L.A., and the Creek fire, near the Sylmar neighbor of L.A. So far, the fires have burned through more than 83,000 acres of land, and the area is particularly combustible thanks to strong Santa Ana winds propelling the forest fires through brush dried out from L.A.’s hottest summer on record.
Power outages also spread to the Westwood neighborhood Wednesday, leaving the University of California Los Angeles campus without electricity for part of the day, and classes were cancelled.
“These are days that break your heart,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at a news conference. “These are also days that show the resilience of our city.”