LOS ANGELES – A wind-driven wildfire raged through Southern California communities on Friday, burning homes and forcing thousands of people to flee as it relentlessly pushed toward tony Malibu and the Pacific Ocean.
Fire officials couldn’t estimate how many buildings were lost from the so-called Woolsey Fire burning in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, but said they were expected to be significant.
Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate, but there were no injuries to residents or firefighters, said Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Dave Richardson.
The fire was one of two that broke out Thursday in Ventura County even as the area was reeling from the deadly mass shooting at a crowded bar in Thousand Oaks. Another California fire 475 miles (765 kilometers) to the north leveled much of the town of Paradise in Butte County as it quadrupled in size. At least five people died in that fire.
Firefighting resources were stretched thin.
“The challenges are, number one, competing resources,” Richardson said. “We all know this is the second fire that occurred in Ventura County, and it’s on the heels of what’s happened up in Northern California where they’ve had devastating loss in Butte County.”
Firefighters had hoped to stop the fire’s march south at the wide expanse of U.S. 101, but it jumped the freeway as the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds spiked in the early morning hours.
The fire rapidly climbed into the Santa Monica Mountains and raced toward the coast.
“The perimeter is now the Pacific Ocean,” Richardson said.
Evacuations were ordered for all communities south of U.S. 101, including the entire city of Malibu, where the population of about 13,000 includes many celebrities.
Traffic jammed on sections of Pacific Coast Highway and some evacuated to popular Zuma Beach.
Some 2,000 firefighters were battling the flames as helicopters and airplanes made water and fire retardant drops.
The other fire burning to the west in Ventura County was also moving toward the ocean but its pace was slowed as it moved into the footprint of a 2013 wildfire that devoured vegetation on the far end of the Santa Monica range.
Forecasters expect a break in the Santa Ana winds on Saturday and then a new round Sunday through Tuesday.