California fire burns Bel-Air mansions as spread continues

Firefighters remove a painting as they continue to extinguish fires in a home during the "Skirball Fire"

Residents of Los Angeles’ wealthy Bel-Air neighbourhood have found their homes under threat after another wildfire erupted in California.

The so-called Skirball Fire destroyed several homes in the exclusive area, quickly spreading over 150 acres.

It is the latest eruption of wildfire in the state, which has already seen widespread destruction from a series of uncontrolled blazes.

The largest, named the Thomas Fire, has covered some 90,000 acres.

By Wednesday night local time, California’s fire service said it had threatened 12,000 buildings, destroyed 150, and was only “5% contained”.

A huge plume of black smoke rises from a burning home on a hilltop beside one still standing in Bel Air, east of the 405 freeway on December 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California

Mandatory evacuation orders remained in several areas, as strong winds helped to spread the flames.

Authorities issued a purple alert – the highest level warning ever issued in the state – amid what it called “extremely critical fire weather”.

Ken Pimlott, head of California’s fire response, told reporters: “There will be no ability to fight fires in this kind of wind.”

He said evacuations would be prioritised.

The nearby University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) cancelled all classes on Thursday, despite the university campus lying outside the evacuation zone on the city’s west side. It said it had taken the decision “given the array of uncertainties”.

Many schools have also been closed.

A helicopter drops water on a vineyard owned by Rupert Murdoch damaged by the Skirball fire near the Bel-Air neighbourhood on the west side of Los Angeles

In Bel-Air on Wednesday, firefighters were seen removing artwork from opulent homes as they attempted to contain the fire.

The neighbourhood is home to celebrities and business leaders including Beyoncé and Elon Musk.

Singer Lionel Richie cancelled a Las Vegas performance that had been scheduled for Wednesday evening, saying he was “helping family evacuate to a safer place”.

A large estate and vineyard owned by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch was also threatened, and suffered some damage.

The Los Angeles Times said Mr Murdoch had paid $28.8m (£21.5m) for the estate four years ago – a sum 12 times the average family home price in Bel-Air of $2.45m.

The Getty Museum, which is also at risk, said it would remain closed on Thursday. It said it had not removed its artworks and that air filtration systems were protecting its collection – which includes pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh and Turner – from smoke damage.

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