California fires threaten Murdoch estate in wealthy Bel Air area

Strong winds expected to fan blazes that have already destroyed hundreds of homes and forces thousands to evacuate

A motorists on Highway 101 watches flames from the Thomas fire leap above the roadway north of Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.  As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region. About 200,000 people were under evacuation orders. No deaths and only a few injuries were reported. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Wildfires raging across Southern California shut a major commuter artery in Los Angeles and threatened to engulf homes in the wealthy Bel Air neighbourhood, including the winery estate of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

Stretches of Interstate 405, which feeds major Los Angeles job centres, were shut as fires raged on nearby mountains. Neighbourhoods near the highway and the famed Mulholland Drive, including parts of Bel Air, were evacuated after one of the wildfires, known as the Skirball Fire, erupted on Wednesday.

Mr Murdoch's Moraga Estate, where he lives with his wife, Jerry Hall, in a 750-square-metre house, is in the evacuation zone. Some buildings in the estate's upper vineyard area may have been damaged but the winery and house are believed to be intact, the media mogul said. He bought the property in 2013 for $28.8 million (Dh105.7m).

More than 150 structures were reported destroyed near Ventura. Dozens of schools in Ventura and Los Angeles counties were closed. The University of California at Los Angeles, adjacent to an evacuated area, cancelled classes.

Edison, the state's electric grid operator, declared a local transmission emergency after the loss of high-voltage power lines serving the Ventura and Santa Barbara areas. More than 11,000 customers were without power due to the wildfires.

According to local media, about 200,000 people have been forced evacuate by the wildfires around Los Angeles, America's second-largest city. Hundreds of houses have burned.

Hot, dry seasonal winds are expected to fan the fires. The Santa Ana winds, which blow westward from the California desert, were forecast to reach 130kph on Thursday.

"We are in the beginning of a protracted wind event," Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the Los Angeles Times. "There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds."

The largest fire, the Thomas Fire, burned more than 36,000 hectares, destroyed more than 150 homes and threatens thousands more in Ventura, about 80km north-west on Los Angeles.

In the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, the Creek Fire destroyed at least 30 homes, charred more than 4,800 hectares and forced the evacuation of 2,500 homes.

Another fire, known as the Rye Fire, threatened more than 5,000 homes and structures north of Los Angeles.

No civilian casualties or fatalities have been reported. Three firefighters who were injured and admitted to hospital are in stable condition, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

President Donald Trump, who owns a home in Beverly Hills, tweeted that his thoughts and prayers were with Californians affected by the fires and thanked emergency personnel for their work.

The latest wildfires come two months after the deadliest set of blazes in the state’s history broke out in Northern California’s wine country, causing losses of nearly $10 billion (Dh36.7bn).

The last time Southern California saw a blaze in December that burned thousands of hectares was in 2006. That year, the Shekell fire in Ventura county charred 5,504 hectares and damaged or destroyed 18 structures.