- The Getty Fire broke out early Monday morning near the Getty Centre in Los Angeles. It has burned 745 acres and damaged or destroyed 17 homes.
- LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger were among thousands of residents forced to evacuate. On Tuesday, James thanked firefighters with a taco lunch.
- Officials said the fire began when a dry tree branch broke off amid powerful winds and landed on nearby power lines.
- Santa Ana winds have fuelled the fire’s spread. The National Weather Service issued an extreme red-flag warning, since strong winds are expected through Thursday evening.
- As the climate warms, California’s wildfire season is getting longer, and weather conditions that bring a risk of wildfires are becoming more common.
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The Getty Fire, which broke out near the Getty Centre early Monday morning, has spread across 745 acres in Los Angeles.
The blaze forced thousands to flee their homes, including LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger, though most evacuation orders were lifted on Wednesday. The fire was 39% contained as of Thursday morning, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The National Weather Service has issued an “extreme red-flag warning” for fire conditions through 6 p.m. on Thursday.
“Conditions are as dangerous for fire growth and behaviour as we have seen in recent years,” the LA Fire Department said in a statement.
Wind gusts up to 78 mph were recorded in Los Angeles and Ventura counties on Wednesday, with gusts up to 40 mph expected through Thursday afternoon. Humidity is as low as 1% in some areas, making vegetation easy to ignite.
“It only takes one ember to blow downwind to start another fire,” LA Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said in a press conference Tuesday morning. “Embers have been known to travel several miles.”
Flames have destroyed 12 homes and damaged at least five. The blaze threatens another 7,091 homes.
Two firefighters have sustained minor injuries.
The fire was likely caused by a dry tree branch that broke due to powerful winds and landed on nearby power lines, the LA Fire Department announced on Tuesday. Though it didn’t break the power lines, the impact caused sparking that ignited a nearby bush.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called it “an act of God.”
‘Had to emergency evacuate my house’
On Monday morning, LeBron James said on Twitter that his family had fled. “Had to emergency evacuate my house and I’ve been driving around with my family trying to get rooms,” he wrote. Eighteen minutes later, James said they’d found accommodations.
Man these LA ???? aren’t no joke. Had to emergency evacuate my house and I’ve been driving around with my family trying to get rooms. No luck so far! ????????♂️
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 28, 2019
James recounted the experience to reporters before a Lakers game on Tuesday.
“It’s just challenging at that hour, getting my family, getting my kids, getting everybody and having to evacuate at such a rapid, rapid rate,” he said, according to CNN. “You don’t really have much time to think about what you can get or what you can do. You just got to get out and get to safety.”
On Tuesday, James sent firefighters a taco truck as a gesture of thanks. Garcetti shared images of the lunch on Twitter.
— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) October 29, 2019
“The most important thing is the first responders, how important they are, how committed they are to be able to respond at that hour, at that speed,” James told the LA Times.
Santa Ana winds are spreading fires quickly across California
The Getty Fire led parts of the 405 freeway to close temporarily, though the roadway has since reopened. Flames have been visible from the Getty Centre, but the museum itself is safe for now.
“Many have asked about the art – it is protected by state-of-the-art technology,” the museum said in a statement on Twitter. “The safest place for the art and library collections is inside.”
Powerful Santa Ana winds have helped the fire spread, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The Santa Anas blow down from neighbouring mountains toward the southern California coast during the fall and winter, picking up speed and heat as they travel through narrow passes and down toward sea level.
Across California, strong winds have coincided with dry conditions to fuel several wildfires, including the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. (In the northern part of the state, the phenomenon is referred to as Diablo winds.)
“It’s a dangerous season right now,” Terrazas said. “We have not had any significant rainfall for a period of time. So that’s why we’re very, very concerned about these weather conditions.”
Climate change is increasing wildfire risk
Individual wildfires can’t be directly attributed to climate change, but accelerated warming increases their likelihood.
“Climate change, with rising temperatures and shifts in precipitation patterns, is amplifying the risk of wildfires and prolonging the season,” the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said in a July release.
The average wildfire season is 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. That’s because dying trees and vegetation are drying out (and becoming more available to burn) earlier in the year.
Large wildfires in the western US now burn more than twice the area they did in 1970. When it comes to California specifically, a recent study found that the portion of the state that burns in wildfires every year has increased more than five-fold since 1972.
Nine of the 10 biggest fires in the state’s history have occurred since the year 2003.
“No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear,” climatologist Park Williams told Columbia University’s Centre for Climate and Life. “Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns.”
Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown warned the state has entered “uncharted territory.”
“Since civilisation emerged 10,000 years ago, we haven’t had this kind of heat condition, and it’s going to continue getting worse,” he said.
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