Stunning new photographs show the California wildfires from space, revealing just how vast the level of devastation is – as experts say it’s likely to get worse as fires become uncontrollable in high winds.
The photos, posted on Twitter by International Space Station astronaut Randy Bresnik, show plumes of smoke covering the land and sea as the five wildfires continue to rage.
But now experts say that the high Santa Ana winds have pushed the risk level for much of Southern California into the never-before-seen ‘Extreme’ range.
The National Weather Service San Diego has marked hundreds of square miles – from Ojai in the north down to the Mexican border, and Ventura in the east to the 247 freeway in the west – in purple, warning of the risk of fast-growing, ‘uncontrollable’ fires.
That could mean the hard-won progress of firefighters on Wednesday will be erased on Thursday, as the fires – which have already put hundreds of thousands of people under evacuation orders and destroyed nearly 20 homes and buildings – grow at terrifying speeds.
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This is the extraordinary view of the Southern California wildfires afforded by the International Space Station. The five massive blazes have scoured hundreds of square miles of the state, and forced 200,000 people from their homes
The blazes – the latest of which sprang up yesterday near Bel Air – have created vast plumes of smoke that have canopied nearby areas of the state. Experts say they’re likely to get worse Thursday as 80mph Santa Ana winds push them on
The photos were posted on Twitter by astronaut Randy Bresnik, who wrote: ‘I was asked this evening if we can see the SoCal fires from space. Yes Faith, unfortunately we can. May the Santa Anas die down soon’
Smoke is being clown out over the Pacific ocean in this beautiful – but terrifying – photo. Bresnik added: ‘Thank you to all the first responders, firefighters, and citizens willing to help fight these California wildfires’
The oldest of the fires began on Monday and the latest on Wednesday – but all have caused immense damage to structures, and killed many animals. Thankfully no people have yet been killed, although injuries have been reported
This shot shows one of the solar panels on the ISS, along with the wildfires far below. Much of Southern California is in ‘extreme’ danger of fires for the first time in history, the director at the California Dept of Forestry and Fire Protection said
The view from below is even more terrifying. This is the Thomas Fire, near Ventura – the largest of the fires. It has covered more than 95,000 acres, as embers and strong winds cause shrubs to blaze
Firefighters monitor the Thomas Fire along Ventura’s 101 freeway, using flares to burn off brush close to the road. Around 200,000 people are under evacuation orders across the state, and almost 200 homes and buildings have been destroyed
Police and fire crews watch as the Thomas Fire burns a hillside near Ojai. That town was evacuated after it was surrounded by fire overnight. Experts worry that firefighters will only be able to watch if winds whip the fire out of control on Thursday
The 101 Highway (pictured) was closed after the Thomas Fire jumped the road towards the Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura. Thursday will be a dicey day for firestorm watchers
The National Weather Service San Diego has warned that Thursday will bring ‘Extreme’ fire danger risks to LA, Ventura, Orange County, Inland Empire and San Diego. Santa Barbara is at ‘Marginal’ risk, it said
The Thomas Fire, Creek Fire and Rye Fire were joined on Tuesday by the San Bernardino Fire. On Wednesday morning the Los Angeles brush fire – dubbed the Skirball Fire – was reported to emergency services. By the afternoon it hit Bel Air
‘We’ve never used purple before,’ said Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, referring to the color-coded ‘Extreme’ designation placed on miles of Southrn California.
‘We’re talking winds that can surface that can be 80 miles an hour. These will be winds that there will be no ability to fight fires.’
There have been fire blazes so far, with the largest – the Thomas Fire – occurring in the Ventura area; it was joined by the Skirball Fire, which burned LA’s rich Bel Air neighborhood; the Creek Fire, which destroyed homes in the Sylmar area, the Rye Fire, which menaced Santa Clarita; and the Little Mountain fire outside San Bernardino.
The Thomas Fire in Ventura is by far the largest and has covered 96,000 acres.
Despite the efforts of more than 1,100 fire fighters, it is just 5% contained.
The Creek Fire, near Sylmar, has covered more than 12,605 acres.
It is 5% contained.
The Rye Fire, near Santa Clarita, has covered 7,000 acres. It is 15% contained.
The Skirball Fire, which is consuming Bel Air and threatening celebrity homes is one of the smallest. It has covered 475 acres. It is uncontained.
The Little Mountain Fire
Near San Bernardino, the Little Mountain fire is the smallest at 260 acres.
As of Thursday morning, it was 100% contained, meaning it will not spread but it is still burning.
They may be joined by others Thursday, as the 80mph gusts that are expected from this fall’s Santa Ana winds can push fires quickly across dry plants and carry embers that spark new fires miles away.
On what may have been an early sign of the 140-square-mile Thomas Fire getting new life, several thousand new evacuations were ordered late Tuesday night in Ojai, a town of artists and resorts at the northern tip of the ‘Extreme’ danger zone.
The blaze had been creeping towards the town already, with flames first visible from downtown on Tuesday night, but an increase in winds on Wednesday night pushed it closer and caused it to slowly surround the down.
Parts of Ojai were already under evacuation orders, and the entire valley surrounding it had been under a voluntary evacuation advisory since the fire broke out on Monday.
But the new evacuations meant most of the town of about 7,000 people was under mandatory orders, adding to the total of nearly 30,000 people under such orders for the Thomas Fire, which covered 140 square miles by Wednesday night.
So far the human death toll in the area has been zero – something likely helped by the push alerts sent to millions of cell phones from San Diego to Santa Barbara that have kept people alert and ready to react to the fires.
But the toll on animals has been far greater. In one Slymar ranch alone, 29 horses burned to death when the Creek Fire swept through the property.
Ranch owner Patricia Padilla said she was reluctant to leave the animals but had no choice because her own life was in risk.
‘All I could think about was the horses, the horses, the horses,’ she told The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
‘And [the firefighters] were like, “Get out, get out, get out.” The structures can get rebuilt, but the lives of the horses can’t. … That’s my biggest heartbreak.’
In one video, a man was filmed by a roadside stepping into burning brush, only to return a moment later holding a still-living wild rabbit that had been cornered by the fire.
A fire truck drives through a shower of sparks on the 101 Highway on Thursday morning as the Thomas Fire continues to raze vast swathes of countryside. There is concern that wind will blow these sparks far away, causing further damage
A hillside is ablaze as the Thomas Fire scales it early on Thursday morning. The smoke cast a choking pall across large sections of the state, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon
Firefighters battle a blaze in Ojai. This area was affected by the Thomas Fire too. The Thomas Fire – the largest of the five blazes – remains 95 per cent uncontrolled
A firefighter checks embers after the Thomas Fire has blown through a scrub by the side of the 101 Highway on its way towards the Pacific Coast Highway
Shelby Hope walks through the remains of the Padilla Ranch near Sylmar, which was ravaged by the Creek Fire. The ranch owners were forced to flee for their lives, and were unable to free their horses – 29 of which perished
Horses lie in burned-out stables after the Creek Fire swept through the Padilla Ranch. Prior to the fire, the owners had 60 horses, 31 of which survived
In one video of the blazes, a man can be seen running around a flame-filled area trying to rescue a wild rabbit. He eventually picks up the animal and runs away from the blaze
Flames from the Thomas fire burn above traffic on Highway 101 north of Ventura. Scenes similar to this were glimpsed across the state as people tried to go about their lives in the face of the fire
Celebrities also got a taste of the terror on Wednesday as the fires neared their Bel Air mansions and choked the surrounding areas.
‘Never thought I’d get to actually play what I thought was a hypothetical game of what would you grab if there were a fire. So far all I have is Luna, some limited edition Oreos and my Spike TV award,’ Teigen tweeted as she evacuated.
She added: ‘We are fine and we will be fine. Thinking of everyone else affected and continuing my lifelong intense love of firefighters.’
And satirist Chelsea Handler tackled the fires with her usual wry humor, writing: ‘Just evacuated my house. It’s like Donald Trump is setting the world on fire. Literally and figuratively. Stay safe everyone. Dark times.’
Their homes were threatened on Wednesday in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel-Air section, where multimillion-dollar mansions with sweeping views of Los Angeles were gutted by flames.
Little flame was visible in the area by late Tuesday, but in the morning fire exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily traveled Interstate 405 and destroying four homes.
Flames burned a wine storage shed at media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s 16-acre Moraga Vineyards estate and appeared to have damaged about seven acres of vines, a spokeswoman said.
Across the wide I-405 freeway from the fire, the Getty Center art complex was closed to protect its collection from smoke damage, although it was spared the blaze’s deadly touch as the fire never leaped over the freeway
Chrissy Teigen tweeted her status as the Skirball Fire consumed sections of Bel Air, notifying fans she and her daughter Luna were safe
Satirist Chelsea Handler dealt with the tragedy with her usual sense of humor, saying it felt like the president had set the world on fire ‘figuratively and literally’, as she implored her followers to ‘stay safe’
On Wednesday the newest wildfire, the Skirball Fire, set light to LA’s plush Bel Air neighborhood (pictured). The Getty Center for the arts (top-right) was untouched by the fire, which failed to cross the dividing 405 highway
A firefighter mops up at a home consumed by a wildfire in the Bel Air district of Los Angeles. Celebrities tweeted their misfortune as their homes were evacuated
Workers from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power walk past a home destroyed by the Creek Fire along Via San Anselmo in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles
Crystal Shore looks over the wildfire-damaged homes of her neighbors on Via San Anselmo in Sylmar
Many schools across Los Angeles were closed because of poor air quality, and classes were canceled at 265 schools Thursday.
Back in the beachside city of Ventura, air tankers that had been grounded much of the week because of high winds flew on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.
‘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. ‘But that’s about it.’
Melissa Rosenzweig, 47, was briefly back at her home there Tuesday after fleeing the Thomas Fire. Her house has been spared so far, despite most homes on her street burning.
She and her husband were about to evacuate again, hoping they will get lucky twice as the new winds arrive.
‘Heck yeah I’m still worried,’ Rosenzweig said. ‘We’re very grateful but I know we’re not out of the woods.’
A volunteer passes supplies donated to Thomas fire evacuees in Ventura. FEMA has freed up funds to fight the fires, it announced on Wednsday