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Trump approves California disaster declaration as wildfires wreak havoc

By Jaclyn Cosgrove and Sonali Kohli

LOS ANGELES _ Wildfires fanned by sustained Santa Ana winds continued to wreak havoc across Southern California on Friday as blazes in San Diego and Ventura counties destroyed more than 500 structures, sent more than 120,000 people fleeing for their lives and left thousands without power.

In northern San Diego County, the Lilac fire continued to burn Friday morning, holding at 4,100 acres from the night before. The blaze, which roared through Bonsall and into Oceanside late Thursday, has injured at least three people and killed 25 horses at a thoroughbred training center.

“We are in no way near the end of this,” warned Ron Lane, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer who oversees public safety. On Friday morning, Cal Fire said the wildfire had burned 4,100 acres and destroyed 65 structures.

President Donald Trump approved a California disaster declaration Friday morning. He ordered federal aid to the area and put the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of disaster relief efforts.

The Lilac fire is one of a half-dozen major fires burning across Ventura, San Diego, Los Angeles and Riverside counties, and comes as the National Weather Service extended a red-flag fire warning to Sunday.

Of all those fires, the Thomas fire in Ventura County is still the largest, spanning 132,000 acres from Santa Paula to the coast. It was 10 percent contained as of Friday morning, authorities said.

The winds Thursday night were “down into the teens and 20s as opposed to previous nights we had winds in the 30- and 40-mile-per-hour” range, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Scott Dettorre.

Weaker winds are expected to continue Friday, he said.

“It’s still high but for us at this point, that’s a breeze,” Dettorre said.

If winds do act as predicted, “our air operations will be more effective and obviously the fire spread rate will slow down,” he added. “It’ll give the ground troops a chance to get ahead of this thing.”

Throughout the county, 439 structures were destroyed _ 427 of those were in the city of Ventura, Dettorre said.

Officials still have not identified or reported a cause of death for a woman who was found in the Thomas fire burn area, at the scene of a car accident.

The Thomas fire is mostly burning at either end of the perimeter, Dettorre said. Northeast Santa Ana winds continued pushing flames west toward the La Conchita area, while topography is offering fuel to the fire on the eastern end, Dettorre said. The fire has already encroached into the Los Padres National Forest above Ojai, and could do the same on the eastern end near Fillmore, he said.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department officials said the Thomas fire had not reached their county as of Thursday evening, but added that residents should remain prepared in case it does.

The air quality in Carpinteria is considered “hazardous,” said Polly Baldwin, medical director at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

“Hazardous is the worst classification that air quality has,” she said, urging residents to wear face masks when outside.

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