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Spreading SoCal Wildfires Close Major Freeway, Shut Down Power; NatGas OK

Ash and smoke spread throughout large swatches of the Los Angeles Basin on Wednesday, with three major ongoing wildfires spreading out of control and some new, more suburban-based blazes shutting the 405 Freeway in the heavily trafficked Sepulveda Pass between affluent hilltop residential neighborhoods and major campuses like UCLA and the Getty Center arts complex.

Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) continued to report no major outages on its gas utility system, the nation's largest. However, local electrical utilities were dealing with continuing  fire- and wind-caused outages. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a local  state of emergency in response to the latest new fire, the 125-acre Skirball Fire, named for the cultural center near the 405 that was threatened, along with the affluent residential enclave of Bel Air.

Garcetti had signed an emergency declaration on Tuesday for the Creek Fire, 25 miles to the north, that continued to burn out of control, now having consumed more than 11,000 acres and numerous structures. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power  (LADWP) continued to warn that outages and downed-power lines could be widespread, reporting that overall outages dropped to about 2,900 Wednesday afternoon.

The Thomas Fire in Ventura continued to be the worst, raging out of control over more than 65,000 acres and reaching a portion of the Pacific Coast. More than 27,000 citizens had been evacuated by Wednesday afternoon, and evacuation orders were mounting at the locations of the various LA County fires.

Gov. Jerry Brown late Tuesday issued an emergency proclamation for LA County due to the effects of the Creek and Rye Fires that all day Wednesday continued to threaten infrastructure, destroy homes and prompt evacuations. That followed an earlier proclamation for Ventura County.

Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) said it had crews in the areas around all of the fires attempting to make damage assessments, but the company said they were being hampered by fire conditions in certain areas. "We have mobilized additional resources to the impacted areas, and we are working to restore electric service as quickly and safely as possible," said SCE CEO Kevin Payne.

SCE has made the early assessment that given the origin of both the Thomas and Creek Fires, and the continuing performance of the electric utility system, "there is no indication that the company' facilities were a source of these fires." Given the utilities’ ongoing concerns about their liability in these wildfires, SCE and others are concerned about their operations' role, if any, in sparking them.

As SoCalGas and LADWP officials also said, Payne noted that SCE "remains in close coordination" with fire agencies and other first-responders to ensure employee and public safety.

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