Skirball Fire 5 Percent Contained as Winds Expected to Reach 80 miles per hour

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"Easterly winds of 20 to 45 miles per hour can be expected with gusts exceeding 80 miles per hour over the higher terrain and in the more wind prone areas".

The out-of-control fires are blazing in parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and almost 200,000 people have been affected by mandatory evacuation orders. The warning appeared to be borne out on Thursday in San Diego County, where a blaze, dubbed the Lilac Fire, grew to 2,500 acres in just a few hours and prompted mandatory evacuations. Warmer temperatures dry out vegetation, making them easier to burn, and scientists say vulnerable regions like California should expect a spike in wildfires in the coming decades as temperatures continue to rise.

The smoke plume from the fires extends over 1,000 miles into the Pacific, which would stretch from New York City to Miami. "Right now we're experiencing favorable wind conditions. but we are anticipating a continuation of the red flag conditions throughout the week, at least until Friday".

About 700 homes and an apartment building were evacuated Wednesday.

The state National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing out of Oxnard has also joined the fight, even though roughly 50 of the National Guardsmen involved had to be evacuated themselves, said spokeswoman Maj. The evacuation order was later expanded, covering a large area bounded by Mulholland Drive to the north, Sunset Boulevard to the south, the 405 to the west and Roscomare Road on the east. The Skirball fire is the smallest of the wildfires now, but its threat to heavily populated areas of Los Angeles has drawn widespread attention.

Strong Santa Ana winds, blowing in at up to 90km/hr, are helping to fan the uncontrollable blazes, which have seen the wildfire warning level raised to "purple" for the first time in history.

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In Los Angeles, the Burning index rating, a daily reading of fire danger, is now at 296, according to fire officials, a record.

La Conchita, a tiny town hard against coastal Highway 101 northwest of Ventura, was threatened by flames early Thursday. The 405 freeway was later reopened, transportation officials said.

Wildfires in southern California have ripped through the upscale neighbourhood of Bel-Air, burning properties and estates including parts of a $30 million winery owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Late Thursday, evacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were being used as shelters.

UCLA, Cal State Northridge, Los Angeles Valley College and Santa Monica College have canceled classes for Thursday.

About 100 officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were sent to the neighborhood to handle evacuation orders, said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

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