By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A wind-whipped wildfire raged on Wednesday into a wealthy Southern California neighborhood, destroying at least six homes, threatening hundreds more and scorching a building at a winery owned by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
The so-called Skirball Fire, which erupted early on Wednesday as the latest in a rash of major blazes fueled by hot, dry Santa Ana winds, had burned about 150 acres near large estates in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles by nightfall and was only 5 percent contained.
Firefighters battled to save multimillion-dollar homes in the path of the flames, which also forced the closure of the San Diego (405) Freeway in both directions.
“We are expecting some extreme wind behavior this evening,” Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby told reporters at an afternoon news conference.
Murdoch’s winery, Moraga Vineyards, was evacuated on Wednesday morning as the fire descended on the grounds, a spokeswoman said. Later a structure on the property was seen on fire as crews worked to extinguish the flames.
“We believe the winery and house are still intact,” Murdoch said in a written statement on Twitter. “We are monitoring the situation as closely as we can and are grateful to the efforts of all the first responders.”
Murdoch said his thoughts and prayers were with neighbors who “suffered heavy losses.”
The new fire also prompted the nearby Getty Center museum to close the doors at its hilltop campus to prevent damage to its world-class art collection.
The Skirball Fire in the area south of scenic Mulholland Drive and north of Sunset Boulevard was just one of several major out-of-control brush fires that have sprung up in Southern California since Monday, when Santa Ana wind conditions set in.
In Ventura, some 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Los Angeles, more than 1,000 firefighters battled the largest, the Thomas Fire, which has already destroyed more than 150 homes and threatened thousands more.