Firefighters on top of wildfire in LA's luxury Bel Air

PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES - Firefighters in Los Angeles said Wednesday (Dec 13) they were nearing full containment of a week-old fire caused by "an illegal cooking fire" at a homeless encampment.

The blaze, which is 90 per cent under control, has scorched 422 acres (170 hectares) since it broke out in the early hours of December 6, destroying six homes in the upscale Bel Air area and damaging 12 others.

"We were not aware that there was this encampment there. If we were, we would have been encouraging them to move," said city council member Paul Koretz.

"But what makes this even more tragic is the tragedy of homelessness, and the fact that we've got tens of thousands of people living on the streets and it means things like this will happen until we get more of a handle on the problem," he added.

Wildfires rage across southern California

  • Firefighters battled raging wildfires across southern California that have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes
  • , including residents on the outskirts of Los Angeles, America's second-largest city.
  • Winds with hurricane-force gusts of up to 130 kmh were fueling the blazes, creating apocalyptic scenes of hillsides engulfed in billowing smoke and towering plumes of flame.
  • Despite the intensity of the fires, only one fatality has been reported so far.
  • More than 4,000 firefighters and dozens of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters have been deployed to combat the fires in Los Angeles County and Ventura County, fire officials said.
  • The Pentagon announced that the California National Guard is deploying 65 troops to assist in the fire-fighting efforts, which are being hampered by the seasonal Santa Ana winds.
  • California Fire Department officials said dry, windy conditions were expected to continue into the weekend and warned residents to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.
  • Multi-million dollar mansions were destroyed in Los Angeles' Bel Air neighborhood, where many celebrities own homes.

The "Skirball" fire burned in the same area as the devastating Bel Air Fire of 1961, which destroyed about 500 homes and led to various policy changes, including a prohibition on wood-shingle roofs.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said Tuesday it was caused by a cooking fire at an encampment in a brush area.

Up to 700 properties including a mansion owned by model Chrissy Teigen were temporarily evacuated in the luxurious suburb - where residents include Beyonce, Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch.

Nearly 6,400 firefighters have been toiling for a week against wildfires ravaging southern California, fueled by bone dry conditions and powerful winds.

The biggest "Thomas" fire, which has charred more than 237,000 acres of land, remained only 25 per cent contained on Wednesday, according to official data, as firefighters warned of an ongoing threat.

"Thomas" is the fifth biggest fire in California's history, according to the National Weather Service in Los Angeles.

Experts say global warming increases the risk of out-of-control blazes by drying out vegetation, making it more inflammable and easily set alight by lightning, spontaneous combustion, or fires lit by humans.

Authorities so far have reported just one fatality - a 70-year-old woman who died in a car accident while fleeing flames in the Thomas area.

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