California ‘Skirball’ wildfire threatens LA Jewish educational center
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California ‘Skirball’ wildfire threatens LA Jewish educational center

An outbreak of wind-whipped blazes in Southern California has closed closed highways, schools and museums and forced 200,000 to flee

Vehicles pass beside a wall of flames on the 101 highway as it reaches the coast during the Thomas wildfire near Ventura, California on December 6, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON)
Vehicles pass beside a wall of flames on the 101 highway as it reaches the coast during the Thomas wildfire near Ventura, California on December 6, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON)

An inferno engulfed the Los Angeles region Wednesday, forcing more than 200,000 people to flee and threatening thousands of homes, as well as the city’s Skirball Jewish educational center.

The entrance to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California. CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)

The Skirball Cultural Center, which features museum exhibits and other events related to Jewish life and Israel, announced on Twitter it would be closed until further notice, and ticket holders for exhibits in the coming days would be reimbursed.

The Skirball Center said its buildings had not sustained any damage, despite the raging fire being named for the landmark.

Authorities on Wednesday issued a “purple” alert — never used before — because of the extreme danger including winds that could reach 128 kilometers an hour (80 miles), severely limiting firefighting efforts.

The flames have swallowed about 80,000 acres (32,000 hectares) in just over a day since the “Thomas” fire, currently the state’s largest, broke out, leaving at least one dead in an area about 45 minutes from downtown LA.

High winds caused other fires to erupt overnight Tuesday, including one in Los Angeles’ affluent Bel Air neighborhood near the Skirball center.

The “Skirball” fire ignited before 5:00 am (1300 GMT) and quickly grew to engulf about 150 acres around the district, home to celebrities and billionaires including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and pop superstar Beyonce.

Police knocked on doors and used loudspeakers to make sure everybody left their mansions.

Forecasters predicted that winds could cause fires to spread further, threatening more upscale homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum.

The “Skirball” fire also prompted authorities to close the 405 Freeway, a major commuting corridor.

The area battled gridlocked traffic as residents fled ash and smoke that churned over the smoldering hillside in the United States’ second-largest city.

Fire crews worked to save luxury homes threatened by the flames.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said more than 230,000 people had been forced from their homes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

A firefighter hoses down flareups at the two story Hawaiian Village Apartment complex that burnt to the ground during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, California on December 5, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON)

“Very strong winds” blowing from the northeast to the southwest were causing the fire to balloon, he said, warning Angelenos to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

 

Residents of wealthy LA neighborhoods between Mulholland Drive to the north and Sunset Boulevard to the south were part of the evacuation zone.

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