Southern California is ablaze with multiple wildfires, leading to evacuated homes, displaced animals and a whole lot of smoke, ash and air pollution.
Officials say over 168,000 acres are burning throughout the area from five major fire sources. Thomas, the largest, most destructive and photogenic of the active blazes, began Monday night in Ventura County. The Rye Fire in Santa Clarita and The Creek Fire near Sylmar broke out early Tuesday morning, the Skirball Fire, centered Bel Air started Wednesday morning, and Thursday evening saw the ignition of the Lilac Fire, prompting further evacuations and school closures.
Over 5000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and authorities have closed major highways, cancelled schools and evacuated close to 200,000 people.
According to the AP, the blazes are being fanned by the dry Santa Ana winds that surpassed 35 mph this week.
Southern California’s brush burning index -- calculated based on a series of factors including moisture levels, wind and humidity -- hit a record high of 296 on Thursday. (For context, any rating above 162 is considered extremely high risk.)
As of publication, one person had died as a result of the fires. Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, was found dead in a car that had been involved in a crash along an evacuation route of the Thomas fire in Ventura County on Wednesday night, the LA Times reports. According to the county medical examiner, Pesola’s cause of death was blunt force trauma with terminal smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.
Hospitals across Southern California have reported high numbers of patients showing up in the emergency room with breathing problems due to the wildfires, according to the Times, which also reports that health officials in Ventura, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties warned of high pollution levels due to the fires.
“The microscopic particles that are in smoke can penetrate deep into people’s lungs, creating a hazard for those who already have heart or lung problems such as asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)," the Times explains.
Health officials are advising residents of the affected areas to stay indoors, even when smoke or ash couldn’t be seen or smelled. Officials also warned of particularly bad air quality in the San Fernando Valley.
Below is a real-time map of the fires, courtesy of Google: