Further evacuations were ordered Thursday across the Los Angeles metropolitan area as multiple wildfires continue to rage uncontrolled. As fires raged southward Thursday afternoon, the County of San Diego declared a state of emergency, enabling assistance from federal and state resources.
Winds in the Ventura area reached up to 85 miles an hour Wednesday night, the National Weather Service reported, matching the "extreme wind behavior" Los Angeles County Fire Chief said was expected. Conditions improved throughout the morning but Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned at a midday press conference that the situation may quickly worsen.
"The prediction is, even though this is a time of calm winds, that we will continue to get gusts through Saturday that will be erratic and unpredictable, as high as 50 to 70 miles an hour," Garcetti said. "These conditions ... make this a very threatening environment."
With at least 120,000 people already fleeing the fires by Wednesday, the overnight spread of the Thomas Fire in Ventura and towards Santa Barbara caused officials to order more evacuations.
Air travelers affected by the wildfires can change their plans at no cost, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines announced. The airlines said customers traveling through Los Angeles International Airport, Hollywood Burbank Airport or Long Beach Airport can change their travel dates without a fee and will not be charged the difference if the new date is more expensive.
California Highway Patrol reopened 13 miles of coastal route 101, after closing it during the night due to the Thomas Fire "actively burning on both sides of the highway and the median."
KNBC anchor Whit Johnson tweeted a video of the Thomas Fire, calling it a "monster."
The Los Angeles Unified School District announced the closure of hundreds of schools across the region. UCLA, Ventura College, Los Angeles Valley College, Cal State University Channel Islands and Cal State University Northridge canceled classes, with many closing the campus until further notice.
North of San Diego, a blaze called the Lilac Fire broke out mid-morning Thursday near Fallbrook, California.
The brush fire exploded, growing to about 150 acres from seven acres in 45 minutes and destroying two structures. The blaze prompted highway closures and mandatory evacuation orders in areas that include a mobile home park and two local schools, according to Cal Fire San Diego.
Hours later, as the fire grew to cover more than 500 acres, San Diego County declared a local state of emergency, making the region eligible for aid from federal and state resources.
In Bel-Air the wildfire burned into the wealthy Southern California neighborhoods, destroying at least six homes, threatening hundreds more and scorching a building at a winery owned by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Firefighters continued to battle what is known as the Skirball Fire, which erupted early on Wednesday morning. The blaze forced the closure of the 405 freeway in both directions, and officials warned that if the winds picked up again in the evening the situation could become even more dire.
Murdoch's winery, Moraga Vineyards, was evacuated on Wednesday morning as the fire descended on the grounds, a spokeswoman said. Later a structure on the property was seen on fire as crews worked to extinguish the flames.
The new fire also prompted the nearby Getty Center museum to close the doors at its hilltop campus to prevent damage to its world-class art collection.
The Skirball Fire in the area south of scenic Mulholland Drive and north of Sunset Boulevard is just one of several major out-of-control brush fires that have sprung up since Monday, when Santa Ana wind conditions began.
NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik tweeted photos of the wildfires from the International Space Station, thanking first responders and firefighters for their work.
In Ventura, 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, 2,509 firefighters battled the Thomas Fire, which has already destroyed more than 150 homes and threatens thousands more.
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, freeing state funds and resources to assist firefighters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it approved grants to help cover the cost of emergency work for the Thomas Fire and two others.
Although no casualties have been reported, the fires have forced mass evacuations, cancellation of classes at dozens of schools and resulted in the loss of power at more than 250,000 homes in Ventura County.
In the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, the Creek Fire destroyed at least 30 homes, blackened more than 11,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 2,500 homes and a convalescent center north of Interstate 210 on Tuesday.
Three firefighters were injured and hospitalized in stable condition, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.
— Chloe Aiello and Reuters contributed to this report.