Evacuations as wildfire breaks out in Los Angeles

The so-called Getty Fire broke out overnight near a major freeway and quickly spread south and west, scorching 500 acres (202 hectares) and sending people fleeing in the dark.

Firefighters battle the Tick Fire in houses on fire in Brentwood, California on 28 October 2019. Picture: AFP

LOS ANGELES - A wildfire broke out early Monday near the renowned Getty Center in Los Angeles, forcing widespread evacuations as the flames destroyed several homes in hillside communities.

The so-called Getty Fire broke out overnight near a major freeway and quickly spread south and west, scorching 500 acres (202 hectares) and sending people fleeing in the dark.

Among those forced to leave their home was Los Angeles Lakers basketball star LeBron James who tweeted that he and his family had evacuated his home in the upscale neighborhood of Brentwood during the night.

"Man these LA fires aren't no joke," he said. "Had to emergency evacuate my house and I've been driving around with my family trying to get rooms. No luck so far!"

He later tweeted that he had found a place to accommodate the family.

Another A-lister, Arnold Schwarzenegger, also tweeted on Monday that he and his family had to flee.

"We evacuated safely at 3:30 this morning," he tweeted. "If you are in an evacuation zone, don’t screw around. Get out. Right now I am grateful for the best firefighters in the world, the true action heroes who charge into the danger to protect their fellow Californians."

The Getty Fire - which forced the closure of several nearby schools - broke out as California has been dealing with a number of wildfires that have ignited throughout the state in the last week forcing massive evacuations and power cuts.

'WE ARE DEVASTATED'

California's governor declared a statewide emergency on Sunday as a wind-driven fire in the Sonoma wine region, north of San Francisco, spread out of control, forcing tens of thousands to flee.

The Kincade Fire, which erupted last Wednesday, had spread to more than 66,000 acres, or more than 100 square miles, by Monday morning and was only five percent contained.

Firefighters have also been battling about a dozen additional fires that have broken out in the last week, fed by strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures.

People who fled the Kincade Fire recalled hasty departures as they waited it out in the safety of a community center in Petaluma, California.

"The police came with loudspeakers. We weren't expecting it," said Kathy Amundson, who fled with her wheelchair-bound 90-year-old mother Joy.

"We smelled smoke, we couldn't see it," she said. "Looks like our home is safe but the fear is wind blowing embers and then it starts new fires."

Others were not so lucky. The fire has destroyed dozens of homes and vineyards, including the renowned 150-year-old Soda Rock Winery.

"We've seen the news. We are devastated," the owners said in a Facebook message, adding that all staff at the winery - located in the town of Healdsburg, 70 miles north of San Francisco - are safe.

At least two hospitals in Santa Rosa evacuated patients over the weekend to other facilities.

DANGEROUS FUEL

Authorities said more than 3,000 people were battling the fire which was not expected to be fully contained before 7 November.

Firefighters are struggling to prevent the flames from spreading west, toward the Pacific Ocean, in areas that have not experienced fires since the 1940s and where the vegetation is dense and dry, providing dangerous fuel for fires.

An estimated 180,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders, including in parts of Santa Rosa and a large swath of Sonoma County all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Nearly 80,000 structures are threatened, according to the county sheriff's office.

Authorities said the area would remain under dangerous red flag conditions until Monday morning.

"Things will improve as we head into Monday and Tuesday but we need to be resilient," a spokesperson for the National Weather Service told a news conference.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said hundreds of police officers backed by the National Guard had been deployed in regions under evacuation orders to check property and prevent looting.

In a bid to reduce the risk of fire, California's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., has been turning off power to hundreds of thousands of customers across northern and central California.

PG&E has come under intense scrutiny after it emerged that one of its transmission lines may have played a role in the Kincade Fire.

The same type of line was responsible for California's deadliest-ever wildfire - last year's Camp Fire, which killed 86 people.

PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, has been blamed for several other fires in the state in recent years.