Celebrities, Australians and hundreds of thousands of residents in some of Los Angeles’ most exclusive suburbs are bracing themselves as firefighters launch a massive attack on multiple blazes.
The fires have so far killed 31 people, with more than 200 still unaccounted for as emergency personnel struggle to cope with multiple fronts.
The seaside enclave of Malibu was in jeopardy on Sunday as walls of flames powered by 85 km/h winds raced west through the Santa Monica Mountains toward the Pacific coastline, destroying multimillion-dollar mansions.
More than 3000 fire fighters from across California and neighbouring US states worked with aircraft, including 19 helicopters and three DC-10 tanker plane, to save lives and billions of dollars of property.
Neighbouring suburbs – including Thousand Oaks, still reeling from last week’s shooting massacre that left 11 bar patrons and a sheriff’s sergeant dead – have been under mandatory evacuation for three days.
The area is popular with Australian expatriates.
“We didn’t sleep on Thursday night and watched the hill opposite us burn on Friday,” Australian multimedia journalist Andrew Warne, who has stayed at his home in Agoura Hills, told AAP.
“We live next to a lake and have the firefighting choppers continuously flying in to refill before flying back to the fires.”
More than 34,000 hectares of land have burned and 177 houses been destroyed, including the multimillion-dollar homes of action star Gerard Butler, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reality TV star Camille Grammer Meyer and musician Robin Thicke and girlfriend April Love Geary.
“Sad we lost our home but grateful that my family is safe,” Meyer wrote in an Instagram post. “Luckily we quickly evacuated our house yesterday after a patrol car drove up the street announcing mandatory evacuations.”
View this post on Instagram
Sadly my house couldn’t be saved. The courageous firefighters were able to save my cars and personal items recovered from my home. I thanked the fire chief and his team of firemen for all of their hard work. He took the time to explain what happened and I’m grateful for all of their hard work trying to save my home. Sad we lost our home but grateful that my family is safe. Luckily we quickly evacuated our house yesterday after a patrol car drove up the street announcing mandatory evacuations. I’m grateful for my lovely neighbors and friends who kept me informed and for their help this evening. 🙏 Thank you all for caring 💜 #woolseyfire #malibu. Special thanks to Fire Chief Rash and his brave team of firefighters. 🙏
A post shared by Camille Grammer Meyer (@therealcamille) on
The historic Paramount Ranch, where the TV series Westworld and other famous series and films have been shot since 1927, was destroyed and the Malibu mansion used in the American versions of the The Bachelor and The Bachelorette shows has reportedly been damaged.
The extreme fire conditions are expected to remain until Tuesday (US time), when the strong Santa Ana winds are forecast to finally ease.
“This is getting bad,” said meteorologist Marc Chenard from the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Centre.
Mr Chenard said sustained winds of up to 65 km/h and gusts between 100 and 110km/h were expected in the Los Angeles area.
The air masses blowing across the western US deserts, including Death Valley, toward the coast were expected to bring the sustained high winds at least until Tuesday, Mr Chenard said.
“It’s nothing but bad news,” he said.
In Northern California the death toll of Thursday’s horrific wildfire that swept through the town of Paradise rose to 29 after the discovery of 14 more bodies.
The toll is expected to grow and become the most deadliest in California’s history with scores more residents missing.
It is already the most destructive fire in the state’s history, destroying 6400 homes and 260 commercial buildings in less than 24 hours.
At least five teams were searching for bodies in the smoking ruins of Paradise, while relatives were scouring evacuation centres and hospitals in the hopes of finding survivors.
Authorities have called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify the dead.
Sol Bechtold drove from shelter to shelter looking for his mother, a 75-year-old widow whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighbourhood.
“I’m also under a dark emotional cloud. Your mother’s somewhere and you don’t know where she’s at,” he said. “You don’t know if she’s safe.”
He ran across a few of his mother’s neighbours, but no one had seen her.
US President Donald Trump weighed in on the emergency during a trip to France for armistice commemorations.
“With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!” he tweeted early on Sunday.
Mr Trump has previously blamed California officials for fires and threatened to withhold funding, saying the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel blazes.
State officials have blamed climate change and say many of the burn areas have been in federally-managed lands.