A wildfire swept through the star-studded hills of Los Angeles on Monday, destroying several large homes and forcing celebrities like Kathy Griffin, LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger to flee along with thousands of other people.
Meanwhile, a blaze in Northern California wine country exploded in size.
Terrified students at Mount Saint Mary’s University were also forced to flee around midnight, taking what they could in their cars, as the flames ramped up toward the campus. Classes at UCLA were also canceled.
The flames roared up a steep hillside near the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles’ Brentwood section illustrated the danger the state faces as high winds batter both ends of California and threaten to turn any spark into a devastating inferno.
No deaths from either blaze were reported, but a firefighter was seriously injured in the fire in Sonoma County wine country.
Some 2.2 million people lacked electricity after California’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, shut it off over the weekend in the northern part of the state to prevent its equipment from sparking blazes during windy weather. More deliberate blackouts are possible in the coming days because another round of strong winds is expected.
The company, which was driven into bankruptcy after its equipment ignited several deadly wildfires in recent years, admitted Monday that despite the outages, its power lines may have started two smaller fires over the weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area.
PG&E also has said its transmission lines may have been responsible for the Sonoma County fire.
That blaze, which broke out last week amid the vineyards and wineries north of San Francisco, doubled in a day to at least 103 square miles (267 square kilometers), destroying 96 buildings, including at least 40 homes, and threatening 80,000 more structures, authorities said.
About 156,000 people were under evacuation orders because of the fire, mostly from the city of Santa Rosa.
The flames didn’t discriminate. In wine country, farmworkers who toil in the vineyards were among those displaced. And celebrities have been fleeing their homes and dramatic footage showed flames rapidly spreading towards the eight-bedroom Brentwood mansion of actor Josh Duhamel Monday. He bought the 8,232 sq ft sprawling property with then-wife Fergie for $5.2million in 2007.
Kate Hudson was seen getting into her vehicle in the upscale Pacific Palisades neighborhood to evacuate early Monday morning as the threat of fire loomed large.
Kathy Griffin tweeted a video of the flames fast approaching her home. She tweeted: ‘No, I’m not one of those a-holes stopping on the side of the freeway to get this video. Took it from my driveway. Endless thanks @LAFD @LAPDHQ and all first responders. They are tireless heroes!#GettyFire’
NBA star LeBron James said he was forced to evacuate with his family, tweeting: ‘Man these LA (fire emoji) 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!’
Eighteen minutes later he wrote an update: ‘Finally found a place to accommodate us! Crazy night man!’ He also added: ‘I (praying hands) for all the families in the area that could be affected by these (fire emojis) now! Pretty please get to safety ASAP.
‘My best wishes as well to the first responders right now doing what they do best!’
Arnold Schwarzenegger also tweeted that he evacuated his Brentwood home at 3:30am.
Monday night’s red carpet premiere in Los Angeles of ‘Terminator: Dark Fate,’ starring Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton, was canceled because of the fire.
‘We will be donating food intended for the after-party to the American Red Cross, which is serving those affected by the fires,’ Paramount said in a statement.
‘If you are in an evacuation zone, don’t screw around,’ the Terminator star tweeted on Monday.
‘Get out. Right now.’
Schwarzenegger added: ‘I am grateful for the best firefighters in the world, the true action heroes who charge into the danger to protect their fellow Californians.’
Dramatic images showed airplanes flying at low altitude while dropping fire retardant on the area surrounding Schwarzenegger’s home.
Others who own homes in the evacuation zone include Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat running for president, who was not home at the time; Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger; and rapper and producer Dr. Dre.
Other anxious residents made their way down steep hillsides in the middle of the night in Range Rovers, Teslas and Maseratis. They left behind homes decorated for Halloween – skeletons hanging from homes, goblins sitting on front steps, cobwebs draped over bushes – as a plume of smoke glowed like a giant pumpkin.
David Boyle, 78, awoke at 3am to his doorbell ringing and police officers pounding on the front door. They warned him the wildfire was advancing toward his house near the Getty complex.
‘They said, ‘You need to evacuate.’ I’m like, ‘When?’ They said, ‘Now,” Doyle said.
He grabbed dog food and his wife’s jewelry and hustled his dogs out the door. They went to a recreation center.
‘It’s a fact of life when you live in this area,’ he said. ‘Every place has some problem with disasters. People talk about earthquakes here, but I don’t think it’s as bad as hurricane season.’
Natalie Rodriguez, a nursing student at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles, told ABC News she woke up to the smell of smoke just before 2am.
‘Even inside the dorms it was very smoky and it was hard to breathe,’ Rodriguez told ABC News. ‘You could feel the heat from the flames that were so close to us on the other side of the mountain.’
She said she and her roommates fled campus in the middle of the night.
Nearby, UCLA has canceled its classes.
Tens of thousands of people were ordered to clear out as the fire spread to more than 600 acres and burned at least five homes, authorities said.
The evacuation area extended west into Pacific Palisades, encompassing some of the most exclusive real estate in California, where celebrities and wealthy professionals live in estates nestled in canyons or on ridgetop retreats that cost tens of millions of dollars but are surrounded by tinder-dry vegetation.
Hours after homes had burned, some of the 1,000-plus firefighters battling the flames were hosing down smoldering ruins. Others attacked flare-ups in the brush-covered wilderness around neighborhoods.
Helicopters beat the air, and the buzz of chain saws echoed from the canyons. Hills were charred black, and in some places, white ash was all that remained.
The fire shut down southbound lanes of Interstate 405, a major commuting corridor and the route to Los Angeles International Airport from the San Fernando Valley.
The Getty, with its collection of priceless art, was not threatened, fire officials said. The museum gave assurances that its artworks are protected by state-of-the-art technology.
But Mount St. Mary’s University evacuated 450 students from its nearby campus. And the University of California, Los Angeles, canceled classes – not because of any direct threat from the flames but because of disruptions caused by the fire.
Similarly in Northern California, some 40 school districts in Sonoma County canceled classes, as did the University of California, Berkeley, which had no power because of the outages.
With no rain and more wind in the forecast, the coming days could be grim.
‘This is when we have the most potential for large and damaging fires,’ said Thom Porter, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. ‘All of California is in play right now.’
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency over the weekend.
The biggest evacuation was in Sonoma County, where some people who packed up and fled had done so two years ago, when devastating wildfires swept through the region, killing 44 people.
At an evacuation center at Napa Valley College, 15-year-old Francisco Alvarado said he, two younger brothers and his parents decided to leave their Calistoga home ahead of evacuation orders. Two years ago, the family had to flee in the middle of the night.
‘I’m pretty mad that we have to keep evacuating,’ he said. ‘I just want to be home. I’m trying to leave here tomorrow. I want to sleep in my bed.’
Photographers documenting the Kincade Fire run as the fire approaches the road
SOURCE: The Associated Press; Daily Mail