Wildfires rage across southern California, first death reported

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Officials were focused on keeping the fire from jumping the freeway and heading east.

With a new assessment of damage from the largest fire burning in Ventura County, the toll from the fires since Monday is now at least 500 structures, putting it on par with some of the worst fires but still a far cry from the more than 5,000 buildings destroyed by fires in northern California in October. Most of the Ojai Valley had been placed under a mandatory evacuation order.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the country's second largest with more than 640,000 students, said it closed at least 265 of its almost 1100 schools on Thursday.

"It got a little too intense yesterday with the wind kicking up", he said.

That fire, now dubbed the Creek Fire, has swelled to 11,000 acres and destroyed an unknown number of homes from Sylmar to Sunland-Tujunga, officials say. He spent Thursday trying to work and checking the news while also caring for his three children, whose schools were closed because of the fire. Other agencies assisting including the U.S. Forest Service.

Still, said Hartwig, "this is the single best place for any art collection to be in the midst of a fire disaster like this".

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said over 230,000 people have been forced to evacuate in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

"We're basically in an urban firefight in Ventura, where if you can keep that house from burning, you might be able to slow the fire down", said Tim Chavez, a fire behavior specialist at the blaze.

The fire and a smaller one 12 miles (19 kilometers) north in the city of Murrieta broke out the day after state officials sent an unprecedented alert to cell phones across seven Southern California counties warning that strong Santa Ana winds could cause extreme fire danger. The red flag warning signifies a high risk of wildfire because of high winds and low humidity - forecasters said minimum humidity levels were at 5 percent Thursday - while the high wind warning indicates sustained wind speeds of 40 miles per hour and 58-mph gusts. A dozen Ventura County fire engines staged along the road near midday, the fire burning in the avocado and citrus orchards along the ridge-line above.

Evacuation centers have been established at Delano Recreation Center, 15100 Erwin St., Van Nuys; Balboa RC, 17015 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys; Sherman Oaks RC, 14201 Huston St., Sherman Oaks; and Westwood RC, 1350 Sepulveda Blvd., Westwood.

The fire is the biggest in Los Angeles since the Bel Air fire in 1961 torched the homes of the rich and famous. Firefighting crews set up on the southbound side of the 405 to prevent the fire from jumping the freeway, and northbound vehicles were being turned back. Some major highways in the densely populated area were intermittently closed.

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