Wildfires threaten southern California homes, prompt evacuations

Wildfires threaten southern California homes, prompt evacuations
By Gene Blevins

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California firefighters worked through the night into early Tuesday to tackle a pair of wildfires threatening people’s homes.

Live aerial video footage broadcast by KABC-TV showed flames raging along a ridge-line at the edge of an affluent beach-front neighborhood located between Santa Monica and Malibu about 18 miles (30 km) west of downtown Los Angeles.

Initially, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for about 200 homes in the Pacific Palisades community, as ground teams and helicopters worked on putting out hot spots and carving a containment line around the fire zone’s perimeter.

However, at around 8 p.m. (0300 GMT), the Los Angeles Fire Department said all evacuation orders had been lifted from the Palisades fire, and residents could return home.

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said winds were relatively light, helping to keep the blaze in check by reducing the amount of burning embers blown into the air.

Meanwhile, east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County’s Little Mountain area, a 20-acre brush fire that broke out on Monday evening and destroyed three homes, damaged six more and threatened others, fire officials said.

The cause of the fire is not known.

Four residents were hospitalized for smoke inhalation or minor burns, the San Bernardino Sun newspaper said.

Some residents in both communities tried to protect their property with garden hoses, spraying water on roofs.

San Bernardino County Fire Battalion Chief Mike McClintock warned residents against trying to fight the fire themselves, media reported.

“The biggest thing for us is if we ask people to evacuate, we want them to evacuate,” he said. “A garden hose isn’t going to stop a rapidly spreading fire.”

The blazes came about two weeks after a major wind-driven wildfire scorched nearly 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) along the northern edge of Los Angeles, damaging or destroying dozens of structures and prompting evacuations of some 23,000 homes.

Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Butler said forecasts were for strong, dry winds to return Southern California on Thursday.

(Reporting and pictures by Gene Blevins in Los Angeles; Additional reporting Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif., Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Alison Williams)

Mandatory evacuation ordered as Hawaii eruption hits four-week mark

As volcanic fissures spurts molten rock into the air, lava slowly approaches a home on Nohea Street in the Leilani Estates near Pahoa, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Garcia

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU (Reuters) – The Hawaii community hardest hit by the Kilauea Volcano was ordered sealed off under a strict new mandatory evacuation on Thursday as the eruption marked its fourth week with no end in sight.

The Big Island’s mayor, Harry Kim, declared a roughly 17-block swath of the lava-stricken Leilani Estates subdivision off-limits indefinitely and gave any residents remaining there 24 hours to leave or face possible arrest.

The mandatory evacuation zone lies within a slightly larger area that was already under a voluntary evacuation and curfew.

The latest order was announced a day after police arrested a 62-year-old Leilani Estates resident who fired a handgun over the head of a younger man from the same community, apparently believing his neighbor was an intruder or looter.

The confrontation on Tuesday was recorded on cell phone video that later went viral.

But the mandatory evacuation was “decided prior to that incident,” said David Mace, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency currently assigned to the Hawaii County Civil Defense authority.

Civil defense officials have previously said about 2,000 residents in and around Leilani Estates were displaced at the outset of the current eruption, which began on May 3.

But the total number of evacuees was estimated to have risen to about 2,500 after authorities ushered residents from the nearby Kapoho area as a precaution on Wednesday, as a lava flow threatened to cut off a key access road.

At least 75 homes — most of them in Leilani Estates — have been devoured by streams of red-hot molten rock creeping from about two dozen large volcanic vents, or fissures, that have opened in the ground since Kilauea rumbled back to life four weeks ago. Lava flows also have knocked out power and telephone lines in the region, disrupting communications.

Besides spouting fountains of lava around the clock, the fissures have released high levels of toxic sulfur dioxide gas on a near constant basis, posing an ongoing health hazard. Meanwhile, the main summit crater has periodically erupted in clouds of volcanic ash that create breathing difficulties and other problems for residents living downwind.

The heightened volcanic activity has been accompanied by frequent earthquakes, as magma — the term for lava before it reaches the surface — pushes its way up from deep inside the earth and exerts tremendous force underground.

After a month of continual eruptions at Kilauea’s summit and along its eastern flank, geologists say they have no idea how much longer it will last.

“There’s no sign we’re getting that anything is going to slow down at the moment,” Wendy STOVL, a vulcanologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. “We don’t see any changes occurring.”

An aerial view of Kilauea Volcano's summit caldera and an ash plume billowing from Halema'uma'u, a crater within the caldera, May 27, 2018. Courtesy of the Civil Air Patrol/USGS/Handout via REUTERS

An aerial view of Kilauea Volcano’s summit caldera and an ash plume billowing from Halema’uma’u, a crater within the caldera, May 27, 2018. Courtesy of the Civil Air Patrol/USGS/Handout via REUTERS

The island’s mayor on Wednesday renewed an emergency proclamation for 60 more days, allowing construction of temporary shelters and other relief projects to proceed on an expedited basis, without reviews and permits normally required.

The month-old eruption of Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, followed an eruption cycle that had continued almost nonstop for 35 years.

Stovall said geologists now believe the latest upheaval should be classified as a separate volcanic event, though an official determination has yet to be made.

(Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; Additonal reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)