Sam Grosslight, 24, of Bel-Air, was woken up by her mother, Carolyn, early Wednesday morning telling her to grab her phone and her computer. The family piled as much as they could, from Ms. Grosslight’s newly purchased makeup to her father’s ashes, into her Jeep.
“People say you’ll know what you need when you get to the moment, but really you have no idea and you just start grabbing stuff and you’re all over the place,” Ms. Grosslight said.
She stood at a highway overpass in her dad’s old red sweatshirt — Hell Freezes Over, it read — as plumes of smoke churned above her neighborhood.
“It’s the weirdest feeling to not know when you can go back home again. That’s supposed to be the one place you can always go, and right now it’s just not,” she said.
In 1961, a fire ripped through Bel-Air and destroyed almost 500 homes, including many belonging to celebrities, and prompted the adoption of new fire codes, including rules about clearing brush around buildings.
“We’ve all been through this before,” said Abe Hagigat, 61, on Wednesday, as he packed up his car outside his home in Bel-Air and watered his roof. “We stay calm, do what they tell us, and pray.”
His wife and daughter had filled the car with photographs. “That’s really all that really matters,” he said.
Strong winds are normal, but it’s not usually this dry.
The strong winds that are driving the fires are a normal feature of late fall and winter in Southern California. What is different this year — and what is making the fires particularly large and destructive — is the amount of bone-dry vegetation that is ready to burn.
“What’s unusual is the fact that fuels are so dry,” said Thomas Rolinski, a senior meteorologist with the United States Forest Service. “Normally by this time of year we would have had enough rainfall to where this wouldn’t be an issue.”
The situation in Southern California is similar to what occurred in Northern California in October, when high, hot winds fueled fires that killed 40 people and destroyed thousands of homes. But while Northern California has since had a lot of rain that has essentially eliminated the fire threat, the south has remained dry.
“We haven’t had any meaningful precipitation since March,” Mr. Rolinski said.
Helping to spread the fires are the Santa Ana winds, which occur as cold, high-pressure air over Nevada and Utah descend into Southern California, accelerating and warming. Typically, Santa Ana conditions occur on roughly one-third of the days in December and January, Mr. Rolinski said.
When the high winds last for just a day or two, Mr. Rolinski said, the region can often get by without a major fire starting and spreading. “But it’s hard to get through six days of this,” he said.
The fire nears an iconic museum.
To the west of the 405 freeway, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles was closed to the public for a second day on Wednesday because of the wildfires, museum officials said.
No artwork has been evacuated from the museum or its grounds, said Ron Hartwig, the museum’s vice president of communications, who added that the museum was designed to protect against natural disasters like wildfires.
“The safest place for the art collection is right here in the Getty,” Mr. Hartwig said. He said he could see heavy smoke outside the museum coming from the fire area, and he was concerned about the homes across the freeway. “It is just very sad to see the fire across the street and realize so many of our neighbors are suffering,” he said.
Jeff Hyland, the president of Hilton & Hyland in Beverly Hills and a 40-year veteran of the real estate market in Los Angeles, said he had a clear vantage point of the fire from his home on a hilltop in the Trousdale Estates neighborhood, and was watching helicopters drop water onto several properties in Bel-Air.
The Bel-Air homes engulfed by the fires, he said, are mostly older homes on smaller, hillside lots. Some of the houses were built more than 30 years ago and likely would not have fire-resistant ceramic-shingle roofs that are up to modern fire codes, he said. Still, even the smallest vacant lot in the area would fetch over $1 million.
The evacuation zone includes some extremely pricey areas, however, including one of Mr. Hyland’s listings currently on the market for $17 million.
A family loses their home in Ventura.
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