• The fires in total have destroyed more than 300 homes, businesses and other buildings.
• The outbreaks have forced nearly 200,000 people in the Los Angeles and Ventura areas to evacuate, and thousands of firefighters have been summoned to help.
• Hundreds of schools were ordered closed for the rest of the week because of the thick blanket of smoke filling the skies. The Los Angeles Unified School District said at least 322 schools, including independent charters, would not hold classes on Thursday.
• The National Weather Service, which warned of the risk of “very rapid fire growth,” said winds could diminish Friday into Saturday.
In Ventura, ‘the entire town slept with one eye open.’
Forty miles to the northwest of Los Angeles, the largest of several fires had consumed 96,000 acres by Thursday morning and at least 150 structures — probably hundreds more, fire officials said — and threatened 15,000 others in the city of Ventura and neighboring communities, and was 5 percent contained.
Emergency officials said early Thursday that the blaze, known as the Thomas Fire, “continues to burn actively with extreme rates of spread and long-range spotting when pushed by winds.” Part of the region’s 101 freeway was shut down as the fire reached the highway and edged northwest of Ventura.
“The entire town slept with one eye open,” said Tracie Fickenscher, a Ventura resident. “Every time you hear the wind rush up to your house, you wonder if that is the gust. Is that the one that kicked up enough of a spark?”
Other major fires were burning in the northern San Fernando Valley and the rugged region north of Los Angeles. Malibu officials said the fire that broke out in their city on Thursday morning was “currently contained,” but that emergency crews remained on the scene.
Wildfires circled the Los Angeles area and threatened Bel-Air.
By early Thursday morning, the thick smoke that had smothered west Los Angeles had almost completely dissipated. Instead of the gray-brown haze residents woke up to Wednesday, they were greeted by the cloudless blue sky that Los Angeles is famous for. Along the 405 freeway, which had been shut down for part of the morning commute Wednesday, cars moved even more quickly than the usual crawl.
Los Angeles firefighters continued to navigate the steep terrain and canyons near Bel-Air on Thursday morning, where a fire had scorched 475 acres. Overnight wind speeds had not been as bad as some feared. Still, the blaze, which erupted on Wednesday near cherished landmarks like U.C.L.A. and the Getty Museum, was only 5 percent contained.
“Nothing jumped the freeway, which is one of our greatest concerns,” said Paul Koretz, a member of the Los Angeles City Council. “Everything went as well as it could.”
More firefighters and equipment were being summoned to help quell the fire, and none of the residents of the roughly 700 homes that were ordered to evacuate were being let back in. Officials said they had no estimate of when residents would be able to return.
Classes at U.C.L.A. were canceled Thursday, though there was no indication that the campus was in any danger.
A lack of rain in recent months has raised the danger.
From the deck on the roof of his home in Ventura, Tom Sheaffer has spent most of the week watching the fire move from Santa Paula all the way west to the ocean. Mr. Sheaffer, who was born and raised in Ventura, said he had never seen a fire as bad as this.
“This is a whole different level,” he said on Wednesday. “The fuel around here is mostly grass, but it’s dry grass and it really hasn’t burned for many years. The confluence of the hot, dry winds and that fuel that’s been building for so many years has just created this awful situation.”
The strong winds that are driving the fires are a normal feature of late fall and winter in Southern California. What is different this year — and what is making the fires particularly large and destructive — is the amount of bone-dry vegetation that is ready to burn.
“What’s unusual is the fact that fuels are so dry,” said Thomas Rolinski, a senior meteorologist with the United States Forest Service. “Normally by this time of year we would have had enough rainfall to where this wouldn’t be an issue.”
The situation in Southern California is similar to what occurred in Northern California in October, when high, hot winds fueled fires that killed 40 people and destroyed thousands of homes. But while Northern California has since had a lot of rain that has essentially eliminated the fire threat, the south has remained dry.
“We haven’t had any meaningful precipitation since March,” Mr. Rolinski said.
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