Despite strained resources, firefighters persist in battle with Southern California fires

As tens of thousands of Southern California residents continued to stay back from wind-whipped flames that pressed down on their neighborhoods, about 4,000 firefighters from across the region rushed toward a new blaze on Wednesday and returned to battle old ones.

The massive, wind-driven Thomas fire in Ventura County burned 90,000 acres as it headed into its third day Wednesday night. At least 150 homes and structures were destroyed, and 12,000 homes remained threatened. The fire was at zero percent containment as 1,176 personnel continued to fight the blaze from air and ground.

In Los Angeles County, a trio of wildfires kept crews working in long shifts, including the Skirball fire, which destroyed four homes and damaged another 11. The early morning blaze near the Getty museum kept morning commuters from driving on the 405 freeway. The blaze burned 475 acres. In the northeast San Fernando Valley, at least 900 firefighters worked to contain the Creek fire near Sylmar, where more than 12,600 acres had been charred, and at least 30 homes and structures had burned and was 5 percent contained,  officials said. A total of seven Los Angeles firefighters were injured, but none with life-threatening injuries.

In Santa Clarita, the Rye fire ate 7,000 acres and was 10 percent contained.

  • LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • An LA City firefighters pulls hose around a house as a helicopter drops water during the Skirball Fire along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    An LA City firefighters pulls hose around a house as a helicopter drops water during the Skirball Fire along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • An LA City firefighters pulls hose around a house as a helicopter drops water during the Skirball Fire along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    An LA City firefighters pulls hose around a house as a helicopter drops water during the Skirball Fire along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    LA City firefighters put out hot spots in the Skirball Fire on a canyon along Linda Flora Drive in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • On Little Tujunga Canyon Rd in the area where the Creek Fire started, a LA County Battalion Chief was briefing a County Strike Team, when a spot fore roared to life on Dec. 6, 2017. (Photo by Mike Meadows for the Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    On Little Tujunga Canyon Rd in the area where the Creek Fire started, a LA County Battalion Chief was briefing a County Strike Team, when a spot fore roared to life on Dec. 6, 2017. (Photo by Mike Meadows for the Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles County firefighters from station 28 attack a fire that broke out Wednesday morning at the Wildlife Waystation at the Creek fire which has burned more than 11,000 acres and destroyed at least 30 structures. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles County firefighters from station 28 attack a fire that broke out Wednesday morning at the Wildlife Waystation at the Creek fire which has burned more than 11,000 acres and destroyed at least 30 structures. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A burned out car sits next to a destroyed structure on Wentworth St. near the Shadow Hills neighborhood as the Creek Fire burns near Sunland on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A burned out car sits next to a destroyed structure on Wentworth St. near the Shadow Hills neighborhood as the Creek Fire burns near Sunland on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • LA County firefighters attack a fully involved home on Hillrose street in Sunland at the Creek fire Tuesday. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    LA County firefighters attack a fully involved home on Hillrose street in Sunland at the Creek fire Tuesday. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A LA County firefighter attacks a fully involved home on Hillrose street in Sunland at the Creek fire Tuesday. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    A LA County firefighter attacks a fully involved home on Hillrose street in Sunland at the Creek fire Tuesday. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A firefighter calls for water to attack a fire in a horse stable along Wentworth street in Sunland at the Creek fire Tuesday. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    A firefighter calls for water to attack a fire in a horse stable along Wentworth street in Sunland at the Creek fire Tuesday. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A LAFD firefighter fights to save a home in the Santiago Estates area of Sylmar this morning. The fight was unsuccessful as at least a half a dozen homes were lost when water pressure was lost on Tuesday, Dec.5, 2017. (Photo by Mike Meadows for the Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    A LAFD firefighter fights to save a home in the Santiago Estates area of Sylmar this morning. The fight was unsuccessful as at least a half a dozen homes were lost when water pressure was lost on Tuesday, Dec.5, 2017. (Photo by Mike Meadows for the Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles City firefighter Luis Vargas battles the Skirball Fire on Casiano Road in Bel-Air on Wednesday, Dec. 06, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    Los Angeles City firefighter Luis Vargas battles the Skirball Fire on Casiano Road in Bel-Air on Wednesday, Dec. 06, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Firefighters battle the Rye Fire from the air and the ground near Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    Firefighters battle the Rye Fire from the air and the ground near Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Firefighters battle the Rye Fire along Newell Ranch Road in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    Firefighters battle the Rye Fire along Newell Ranch Road in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A water dropping jet aircraft drops fire retardant on the flames of a brushfire fanned by heavy winds near Peter J. Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic on Tuesday, December 5th, 2017. (Photo by Dan Watson / SCNG)

    A water dropping jet aircraft drops fire retardant on the flames of a brushfire fanned by heavy winds near Peter J. Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic on Tuesday, December 5th, 2017. (Photo by Dan Watson / SCNG)

  • Firefighters battle the Rye Fire along Newell Ranch Road in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    Firefighters battle the Rye Fire along Newell Ranch Road in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2017. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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For veteran firefighters, the recent, Santa Ana wind-driven string of eruptions across the dry, rough terrain of Southern California’s wild lands was reminiscent of October 2007 when about 30 wildfires were recorded from Santa Barbara County to the U.S-Mexico border, including in Malibu.

But there’s a difference: A decade ago, Southern California had a distinctive fire season. In the last few years, the prolonged drought and insects have killed 102 million trees across the Golden State, and also produced tons of dead, dry chaparral.

“In 2007, we had fires going in every direction down in Southern California,” said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean “Now, there is no fire season. Southern California hasn’t really had weather. Nothing changes as far as topography, but the vegetation does change. There’s a lot of fuel out there right now.”

And while on-ground firefighting methods haven’t changed since a decade ago, more fuel and high winds create a greater challenge and danger for those at the frontlines, McLean and others said.

“In that respect, it’s become much more dangerous on the fire line than in ’07, or even before that,” said Lou Poulson, president of the 30,000 member California Professional Firefighters. “The intensity of fire behavior and frequency has put a higher level of danger on firefighting.”

Fire fighting resources have been stretched thin this year, officials said, and the recession of several years ago has still affected some budgets. But at the same time, agencies prepared for this year and many said they have adequate staff to respond to emergencies unrelated to the wildfires.

“The day and day emergency is bigger than it has been,” Poulson said. “Our folks are responding to more calls than they have in years.”

That means local agencies are leaning on crews from out of state more to battle wildfires, Poulson and others said.

Right now, there are 250 engines from eight states outside of California assisting in fire fighting efforts, he said.

“It’s not a new trend,” he said. “I think there’s more and more of that happening.”

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Peter Sanders agreed that resources were challenged, but the 1,300 daily calls for services are still being handled. The city’s fire department has a staff of 3,500.

“We are quite stretched, but locally, our services are adequate,” Sanders said. He added that when residents adhere to brush clearing regulations, firefighters can gain the upper hand and save more homes.

But the department is still strained, added Nina Andro, president of the LAFD Foundation, which raises money for the city department.  She said 97 percent of of the department’s budget goes towards salaries and benefits, “leaving scant amount for equipment, technology, supplies and training,” she said.

“In fact, the night vision goggles that allowed the helicopters to do water drops at night and the brush helmets currently being worn by the firefighters are just some of the items we provided to the Department so that they are safe and can be most effective,” she noted.

Meanwhile, firefighting crews were preparing for fierce winds on Thursday. Gusts are forecast up to 90 mph.

Los Angeles County Capt. David Scanlan said the department has staffed six aircraft at full capability to fight the fires from above. Overall, the department has evolved over time to fight wildfires more effectively and he said it helps when residents evacuate when they’re told, which they are increasingly doing.

But overall, he called this latest fire season an anomaly.

“Across the board, we haven’t gone home,” Scanlan said of both air and ground crews. “There’s a big physical and emotional component to it. You’re just going full blast. You have your own family at home. You’re watching people’s houses burn down, and you don’t have resources to stop it. You can’t help everybody. It’s hard to see.”

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