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Race horses perish in Southern California wildfires

Southern California's newest wildfire, Lilac, destroyed homes and ranches in San Diego County o..

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  • Southern California's newest wildfire, Lilac, destroyed homes and ranches in San Diego County on Thursday
  • More than 230,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in California as fires tear through the region
  • Winds with hurricane-force gusts of up to 80 miles per hour fueled the blazes, creating apocolyptic scenes
  • Dozens of thoroughbred race horses were killed in blazes in San Diego County as ranches were evacuated
  • Only one fatality has been reported so far across the counties – an undentified body was found in Ventura

By Kelly Mclaughlin For Mailonline and Associated Press

Published: 05:45 EST, 8 December 2017 | Updated: 06:39 EST, 8 December 2017

Dozens of thoroughbred race horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have died as major wildfires continue to tear through Southern California.

California's newest wildfire, Lilac, tore through ranches and retirement communities built on golf courses as it crossed into San Diego County on Thursday.

More than 230,000 people have been forced to flee their homes across Southern California this week as December's shockingly dry, hot and windy conditions brought on unprecedented fire danger.

Winds with hurricane-force gusts of up to 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour) fueled the blazes, creating apocalyptic scenes of hillsides engulfed in billowing smoke and towering plumes of flame.

Dozens of thoroughbred race horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have died in the major wildfires ripping through southern California. Pictured above, volunteers rescue horses at a stable during the Lilac fire in Bonsall, California, on Thursday

Dozens of thoroughbred race horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have died in the major wildfires ripping through southern California. Pictured above, volunteers rescue horses at a stable during the Lilac fire in Bonsall, California, on Thursday

The fires reached San Diego County on Thursday, with the Lilac Fire tearing through retirement homes and ranches in Bonsall as it crept toward OceansideThe fires reached San Diego County on Thursday, with the Lilac Fire tearing through retirement homes and ranches in Bonsall as it crept toward Oceanside

The fires reached San Diego County on Thursday, with the Lilac Fire tearing through retirement homes and ranches in Bonsall as it crept toward Oceanside

Terrified horses - many of which are thoroughbred race horses - gallop from San Luis Rey Downs as the Lilac Fire sweeps through the horse-training facility on ThursdayTerrified horses - many of which are thoroughbred race horses - gallop from San Luis Rey Downs as the Lilac Fire sweeps through the horse-training facility on Thursday

Terrified horses – many of which are thoroughbred race horses – gallop from San Luis Rey Downs as the Lilac Fire sweeps through the horse-training facility on Thursday

Horses wait to be evacuated from San Luis Rey Downs Training Center in Bonsall, California. Mac McBride, who was working with the center's trainers, said it was 'total pandemonium when several hundred horses were cut loose'Horses wait to be evacuated from San Luis Rey Downs Training Center in Bonsall, California. Mac McBride, who was working with the center's trainers, said it was 'total pandemonium when several hundred horses were cut loose'

Horses wait to be evacuated from San Luis Rey Downs Training Center in Bonsall, California. Mac McBride, who was working with the center's trainers, said it was 'total pandemonium when several hundred horses were cut loose'

A brush fire driven by gusty winds that have plagued Southern California all week exploded rapidly Thursday north of San Diego, destroying dozens of trailer homes in a retirement community in BonsallA brush fire driven by gusty winds that have plagued Southern California all week exploded rapidly Thursday north of San Diego, destroying dozens of trailer homes in a retirement community in Bonsall

A brush fire driven by gusty winds that have plagued Southern California all week exploded rapidly Thursday north of San Diego, destroying dozens of trailer homes in a retirement community in Bonsall

The California Horse Racing Board said it believed that 'approximately 25 horses perished' in the Lilac Fire in San Diego County, which is pictured above destroying homes in BonsallThe California Horse Racing Board said it believed that 'approximately 25 horses perished' in the Lilac Fire in San Diego County, which is pictured above destroying homes in Bonsall

The California Horse Racing Board said it believed that 'approximately 25 horses perished' in the Lilac Fire in San Diego County, which is pictured above destroying homes in Bonsall

Trainers at San Luis Rey Downs estimated that at least a dozen had died, possibly far moreTrainers at San Luis Rey Downs estimated that at least a dozen had died, possibly far moreThe California Horse Racing Board said it believed that 'approximately 25 horses perished in the fire'The California Horse Racing Board said it believed that 'approximately 25 horses perished in the fire'

Trainers at San Luis Rey Downs (pictured) estimated that at least a dozen had died, possibly far more. Horse trainer Scott Hansen said he knows some of the 30 horses he had at a race course were killed.

There was no official count of how many animals were killed in the hazy confusion as both horses and humans evacuated San Diego County on ThursdayThere was no official count of how many animals were killed in the hazy confusion as both horses and humans evacuated San Diego County on ThursdayTrainers at several trainers estimate a combined total of up to three dozenTrainers at several trainers estimate a combined total of up to three dozen

There was no official count of how many animals were killed in the hazy confusion as both horses and humans evacuated San Diego County on Thursday, but trainers at several trainers estimate a combined total of up to three dozen

Despite the intensity of the fires, only one fatality has been reported so far. Tim Lohman of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said an unidentified body had been found overnight.

There was no official count of how many animals were killed in the hazy confusion as both horses and humans evacuated San Diego County on Thursday, but trainers at several trainers estimate a combined total of up to three dozen.

The California Horse Racing Board said it believed that 'approximately 25 horses perished in the fire'.

The fire north of San Diego, driven by winds above 35 mph (56 kph), razed rows of trailer homes in the retirement community, leaving charred and mangled metal in its wake.

It wasn't immediately known what sparked the fire next to State Highway 76, but strong winds carried it across six lanes to the other side.

Evacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were being used as shelters.

The San Diego-area fire quickly grew to more than six square miles and burned dozens of homes at Rancho Monserate Country Club.

Three people sustained burn injuries and another suffered from smoke inhalation in the Lilac Fire. Two firefighters were also injured, CAL FIRE said on Twitter early on Friday.

The region's biggest fire, which is 200 miles north, keeps growing and has destroyed more than 400 homes and buildings.

At San Luis Rey Downs near Bonsall, horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars who are usually carefully walked from place to place were simply set free and encouraged to run away as flames engulfed the center.

San Luis Rey Downs (pictured) is home to horses that run at nearby Del Mar and other top-flight California tracks like Santa Anita ParkSan Luis Rey Downs (pictured) is home to horses that run at nearby Del Mar and other top-flight California tracks like Santa Anita ParkDoug O'Neill (not pictured), whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup races, is among the trainers who keep at least part of their stable thereDoug O'Neill (not pictured), whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup races, is among the trainers who keep at least part of their stable there

San Luis Rey Downs (pictured) is home to horses that run at nearby Del Mar and other top-flight California tracks like Santa Anita Park. Doug O'Neill, whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup races, is among the trainers who keep at least part of their stable there

A local woman posted on Facebook about colt and a gelding that were taken from the San Luis Rey RanchA local woman posted on Facebook about colt and a gelding that were taken from the San Luis Rey RanchShe said one one was suffering from a severely burned eye, but both were safeShe said one one was suffering from a severely burned eye, but both were safe

A local woman posted on Facebook about colt and a gelding that were taken from the San Luis Rey Ranch. She said one one was suffering from a severely burned eye, but both were safe

At San Luis Rey Downs near Bonsall (pictured above in the fire), horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars who are usually carefully walked from place to place were simply set free and encouraged to run away as flames engulfed the centerAt San Luis Rey Downs near Bonsall (pictured above in the fire), horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars who are usually carefully walked from place to place were simply set free and encouraged to run away as flames engulfed the center

At San Luis Rey Downs near Bonsall (pictured above in the fire), horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars who are usually carefully walked from place to place were simply set free and encouraged to run away as flames engulfed the center

The San Diego-area fire, pictured above in Bonsall, quickly grew to more than 6 square miles and burned dozens of homes at Rancho Monserate Country ClubThe San Diego-area fire, pictured above in Bonsall, quickly grew to more than 6 square miles and burned dozens of homes at Rancho Monserate Country Club

The San Diego-area fire, pictured above in Bonsall, quickly grew to more than 6 square miles and burned dozens of homes at Rancho Monserate Country Club

A car drives past a large wall of approaching flames from the Lilac Fire, a fast moving wild fire in Bonsall, in San Diego County, on ThursdayA car drives past a large wall of approaching flames from the Lilac Fire, a fast moving wild fire in Bonsall, in San Diego County, on Thursday

A car drives past a large wall of approaching flames from the Lilac Fire, a fast moving wild fire in Bonsall, in San Diego County, on Thursday

Despite the intensity of the fires, only one fatality has been reported so far. Tim Lohman of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said an unidentified body had been found overnight. Pictured above, firefighters in BonsallDespite the intensity of the fires, only one fatality has been reported so far. Tim Lohman of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said an unidentified body had been found overnight. Pictured above, firefighters in Bonsall

Despite the intensity of the fires, only one fatality has been reported so far. Tim Lohman of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said an unidentified body had been found overnight. Pictured above, firefighters in Bonsall

As blazes rip through Southern California, the region's biggest fire is 200 miles north of Bonsall (pictured above). The blaze continues to grow and has destroyed more than 400 homes and buildingsAs blazes rip through Southern California, the region's biggest fire is 200 miles north of Bonsall (pictured above). The blaze continues to grow and has destroyed more than 400 homes and buildings

As blazes rip through Southern California, the region's biggest fire is 200 miles north of Bonsall (pictured above). The blaze continues to grow and has destroyed more than 400 homes and buildings

Trainers at San Luis Rey Downs estimated that at least a dozen had died, possibly far more.

Mac McBride, who was working with the center's trainers, said it was 'total pandemonium when several hundred horses were cut loose,' but he believes most of the about 450 horses stabled there survived.

McBride, who works at the Del Mar race track, said some horses were evacuated to the nearby track where many of them compete.

'There was so much smoke it was difficult to see,' said horse trainer Dan Durham, who got his 20 horses rounded up and was loading them into vans to be evacuated. 'Some of the horses were turned loose so they could be safe. They were scattered around.'

San Luis Rey Downs is home to horses that run at nearby Del Mar and other top-flight California tracks like Santa Anita Park.

Doug O'Neill, whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup races, is among the trainers who keep at least part of their stable there.

The sign at the front calls it 'Home of Azeri,' the now-retired mare who was the 2002 US Horse of the Year who earned over $4million in her career.

Los Alamitos Race Course, the track where Southern California's rotating thoroughbred circuit is currently running, canceled all races Friday so that the racing community can mourn.

Horse trainer Scott Hansen said he knows some of the 30 horses he had at the facility were killed.

'I don't know how many are living and how many are dead,' Hansen said. 'I guess I'll have to figure that out in the morning.'

Fires flared up Thursday along the highway, forcing an evacuation of dozens of homes at Faria Beach. The massive fire threatened Ojai (a photo of a home in the city pictured above), a scenic mountain town of 7,000 people dubbed 'Shangri-La' and known for its boutique hotels and New Age spiritual retreatsFires flared up Thursday along the highway, forcing an evacuation of dozens of homes at Faria Beach. The massive fire threatened Ojai (a photo of a home in the city pictured above), a scenic mountain town of 7,000 people dubbed 'Shangri-La' and known for its boutique hotels and New Age spiritual retreats

Fires flared up Thursday along the highway, forcing an evacuation of dozens of homes at Faria Beach. The massive fire threatened Ojai (a photo of a home in the city pictured above), a scenic mountain town of 7,000 people dubbed 'Shangri-La' and known for its boutique hotels and New Age spiritual retreats

Fire crews look on as they fight a wildfire in Bonsall, California, on Thursday. It wasn't immediately known what sparked the fire next to State Highway 76, but strong winds carried it across six lanes to the other sideFire crews look on as they fight a wildfire in Bonsall, California, on Thursday. It wasn't immediately known what sparked the fire next to State Highway 76, but strong winds carried it across six lanes to the other side

Fire crews look on as they fight a wildfire in Bonsall, California, on Thursday. It wasn't immediately known what sparked the fire next to State Highway 76, but strong winds carried it across six lanes to the other side

Evacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were being used as shelters. Pictured above, homes burn as a firefighter pulls hose to keep flames from advancing to adjacent homes while battling the Lilac fire at Rancho Monserate Country Club in Pala MesaEvacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were being used as shelters. Pictured above, homes burn as a firefighter pulls hose to keep flames from advancing to adjacent homes while battling the Lilac fire at Rancho Monserate Country Club in Pala Mesa

Evacuations were ordered in the area near the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and schools and casinos were being used as shelters. Pictured above, homes burn as a firefighter pulls hose to keep flames from advancing to adjacent homes while battling the Lilac fire at Rancho Monserate Country Club in Pala Mesa

Three people sustained burn injuries and another suffered from smoke inhalation in the Lilac Fire. Two firefighters were also injured, CAL FIRE said on Twitter early on Friday. Pictured above, flames consume a home in Bonsall, California, on Friday morningThree people sustained burn injuries and another suffered from smoke inhalation in the Lilac Fire. Two firefighters were also injured, CAL FIRE said on Twitter early on Friday. Pictured above, flames consume a home in Bonsall, California, on Friday morning

Three people sustained burn injuries and another suffered from smoke inhalation in the Lilac Fire. Two firefighters were also injured, CAL FIRE said on Twitter early on Friday. Pictured above, flames consume a home in Bonsall, California, on Friday morning

Residents evacuate horses along Nye Road as the Thomas fire approaches in Casita Springs in Ventura, California on TuesdayResidents evacuate horses along Nye Road as the Thomas fire approaches in Casita Springs in Ventura, California on Tuesday

Residents evacuate horses along Nye Road as the Thomas fire approaches in Casita Springs in Ventura, California on Tuesday

Horses are led from danger earlier this week as the Creek Fire threatened homes and ranches in Shadow Hills, CaliforniaHorses are led from danger earlier this week as the Creek Fire threatened homes and ranches in Shadow Hills, California

Horses are led from danger earlier this week as the Creek Fire threatened homes and ranches in Shadow Hills, California

Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city's foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures Tuesday and forced ranches, like the one above in Kagel Canyon, to be evacuatedRaked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city's foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures Tuesday and forced ranches, like the one above in Kagel Canyon, to be evacuated

Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city's foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures Tuesday and forced ranches, like the one above in Kagel Canyon, to be evacuated

Horses are evacuated during the Creek fire in La Canada Flintridge, California, on Tuesday as fires threatened the regionHorses are evacuated during the Creek fire in La Canada Flintridge, California, on Tuesday as fires threatened the region

Horses are evacuated during the Creek fire in La Canada Flintridge, California, on Tuesday as fires threatened the region

For now, he said he was concentrating on getting his horses that survived to evacuation centers.

Another trainer, Cliff Sise, told KFMB-TV that he saw about 10 horses die, including his own filly.

'It was dark, everything was hot and she wouldn't come out. I opened the pen and tried to get behind her and get her out, and she wouldn't get out,' Sise said. 'She burned to death that quick.'

Along the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara, tiny beach communities were under siege as fires leapt from steep hillsides across US Highway 101.

'We drove through a wall of flames,' Wendy Frank said, describing her ordeal after evacuating her horses from Ojai on Wednesday night. 'I didn't know if we'd make it. I just put the accelerator down. I know we were going over 100 mph (160 kph), we could have been going much more, and just hoped for the best.'

Fires flared up Thursday along the highway, forcing an evacuation of dozens of homes at Faria Beach.

The massive fire threatened Ojai, a scenic mountain town of 7,000 people dubbed 'Shangri-La' and known for its boutique hotels and New Age spiritual retreats.

Ash fell like snowflakes on citrus orchards scattered around town and on Spanish-style architecture as firefighters parked their trucks around houses in anticipation of winds picking back up.

Officials said the strong winds fanning the fires are forecast to last through Saturday, making for extremely dangerous conditions.

More than 4,000 firefighters and dozens of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters have been deployed to combat the fires in Los Angeles County and Ventura County, fire officials said.

About 90 minutes south of Los Angeles, two fires were moving swiftly toward the town of Murrieta, scarring more than 900 hectares (2200 acres) of land and threatening hundreds of homes.

Los Alamitos Race Course, the track where Southern California's rotating thoroughbred circuit is currently running, canceled all races Friday so that the racing community can mourn the loss of horses in San Diego County. Pictured above, a helicopter drops water on a wildfire in BonsallLos Alamitos Race Course, the track where Southern California's rotating thoroughbred circuit is currently running, canceled all races Friday so that the racing community can mourn the loss of horses in San Diego County. Pictured above, a helicopter drops water on a wildfire in Bonsall

Los Alamitos Race Course, the track where Southern California's rotating thoroughbred circuit is currently running, canceled all races Friday so that the racing community can mourn the loss of horses in San Diego County. Pictured above, a helicopter drops water on a wildfire in Bonsall

More than 4,000 firefighters and dozens of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters have been deployed to combat the fires in Los Angeles County and Ventura County, fire officials said. More firefighters are in Bonsall, pictured aboveMore than 4,000 firefighters and dozens of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters have been deployed to combat the fires in Los Angeles County and Ventura County, fire officials said. More firefighters are in Bonsall, pictured above

More than 4,000 firefighters and dozens of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters have been deployed to combat the fires in Los Angeles County and Ventura County, fire officials said. More firefighters are in Bonsall, pictured above

Officials said the strong winds fanning the fires are forecast to last through Saturday, making for extremely dangerous conditions. Pictured above, firefighters walk to the fireline at the Lilac fire in BonsallOfficials said the strong winds fanning the fires are forecast to last through Saturday, making for extremely dangerous conditions. Pictured above, firefighters walk to the fireline at the Lilac fire in Bonsall

Officials said the strong winds fanning the fires are forecast to last through Saturday, making for extremely dangerous conditions. Pictured above, firefighters walk to the fireline at the Lilac fire in Bonsall

About 90 minutes south of Los Angeles, two fires were moving swiftly toward the town of Murrieta, scarring more than 900 hectares (2200 acres) of land and threatening hundreds of homes. Pictured above, residents watch the Thomas Fire burns inthe hills above La Conchita early ThursdayAbout 90 minutes south of Los Angeles, two fires were moving swiftly toward the town of Murrieta, scarring more than 900 hectares (2200 acres) of land and threatening hundreds of homes. Pictured above, residents watch the Thomas Fire burns inthe hills above La Conchita early Thursday

About 90 minutes south of Los Angeles, two fires were moving swiftly toward the town of Murrieta, scarring more than 900 hectares (2200 acres) of land and threatening hundreds of homes. Pictured above, residents watch the Thomas Fire burns inthe hills above La Conchita early Thursday

A state of emergency was declared in San Diego County as the Lilac Fire threatened moe than a thousand structures. Pictured above, a home engulfed in flames in the Lilac fire in BonsallA state of emergency was declared in San Diego County as the Lilac Fire threatened moe than a thousand structures. Pictured above, a home engulfed in flames in the Lilac fire in Bonsall

A state of emergency was declared in San Diego County as the Lilac Fire threatened moe than a thousand structures. Pictured above, a home engulfed in flames in the Lilac fire in Bonsall

Fire crews prepare to defend a home as a wildfire advances in Bonsall, California, as the latest wildfire swept the region on ThursdayFire crews prepare to defend a home as a wildfire advances in Bonsall, California, as the latest wildfire swept the region on Thursday

Fire crews prepare to defend a home as a wildfire advances in Bonsall, California, as the latest wildfire swept the region on Thursday

Firefighters battle the Lilac fire in Bonsall, California, on Thursday as the flames raged west toward Oceanside, causing thousands to fleeFirefighters battle the Lilac fire in Bonsall, California, on Thursday as the flames raged west toward Oceanside, causing thousands to flee

Firefighters battle the Lilac fire in Bonsall, California, on Thursday as the flames raged west toward Oceanside, causing thousands to flee

'We hear propane tanks blow up. It means that a house is burning. It's very sad,' said one resident standing near the fence of a ranch in the rural area, where many horses have had to be evacuated.

The Pentagon announced that the California National Guard is deploying 65 troops to assist in the firefighting efforts, which are being hampered by the seasonal Santa Ana winds.

'There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds,' Cal Fire chief Ken Pimlott said.

California Fire Department (Cal Fire) officials warned residents to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

'Extremely dry conditions and Santa Ana Winds will continue to elevate fire danger,' Cal Fire said in a tweet. 'Prepare now to ensure if evacuated you and your family are ready to GO!'

Multi-million dollar mansions were destroyed in Los Angeles' Bel Air neighborhood, where many celebrities own homes and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has a $30 million estate, the Moraga Bel Air Winery.

Besides Bel Air, affluent Los Angeles neighborhoods between Mulholland Drive to the north and Sunset Boulevard to the south were part of the evacuation zone.

The University of California, Los Angeles cancelled classes – two days before the start of final exams – as firefighters battled the 'Skirball' fire near the sprawling campus.

Further to the north, in Ventura County, an even bigger blaze, the 'Thomas' fire, was raging and threatening several coastal and inland towns.

The raging fires have consumed 38,850 hectares, forced the evacuation of about 190,000 people and threatened 23,000 homes as of late on Thursday, CAL FIRE said on Twitter.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said over 230,000 people have been forced to evacuate in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The Pentagon announced that the California National Guard is deploying 65 troops to assist in the firefighting efforts, which are being hampered by the seasonal Santa Ana windsThe Pentagon announced that the California National Guard is deploying 65 troops to assist in the firefighting efforts, which are being hampered by the seasonal Santa Ana winds

The Pentagon announced that the California National Guard is deploying 65 troops to assist in the firefighting efforts, which are being hampered by the seasonal Santa Ana winds

A resident watches the 'Thomas Fire' near Ojai, California, on Thursday. The fire has already burned more than 96,000 acres, destroyed over 150 structures and has forced hundreds of thousands to evacuateA resident watches the 'Thomas Fire' near Ojai, California, on Thursday. The fire has already burned more than 96,000 acres, destroyed over 150 structures and has forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate

A resident watches the 'Thomas Fire' near Ojai, California, on Thursday. The fire has already burned more than 96,000 acres, destroyed over 150 structures and has forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate

: A water-dropping helicopter drops its load onto burning homes battling the Lilac fire at Rancho Monserate Country Club on Thursday in Pala Mesa, California: A water-dropping helicopter drops its load onto burning homes battling the Lilac fire at Rancho Monserate Country Club on Thursday in Pala Mesa, California

: A water-dropping helicopter drops its load onto burning homes battling the Lilac fire at Rancho Monserate Country Club on Thursday in Pala Mesa, California

Inmate firefighters are given instructions as they head into a fire in an avocado orchard at the Ojai Vista Farm threatened by the 'Thomas Fire' near Ojai, California, on ThursdayInmate firefighters are given instructions as they head into a fire in an avocado orchard at the Ojai Vista Farm threatened by the 'Thomas Fire' near Ojai, California, on Thursday

Inmate firefighters are given instructions as they head into a fire in an avocado orchard at the Ojai Vista Farm threatened by the 'Thomas Fire' near Ojai, California, on Thursday

A burnt out home is seen after the Skirball wildfire swept through the exclusive enclave of Bel Air, California. Local emergency officials warned of powerful winds on December 7 that will feed wildfires raging in Los Angeles,A burnt out home is seen after the Skirball wildfire swept through the exclusive enclave of Bel Air, California. Local emergency officials warned of powerful winds on December 7 that will feed wildfires raging in Los Angeles,

A burnt out home is seen after the Skirball wildfire swept through the exclusive enclave of Bel Air, California. Local emergency officials warned of powerful winds on December 7 that will feed wildfires raging in Los Angeles,

Firefighters stand beside a burnt out home after the Skirball wildfire swept through the exclusive enclave of Bel Air, California, where thousands were forced to fleeFirefighters stand beside a burnt out home after the Skirball wildfire swept through the exclusive enclave of Bel Air, California, where thousands were forced to flee

Firefighters stand beside a burnt out home after the Skirball wildfire swept through the exclusive enclave of Bel Air, California, where thousands were forced to flee

Major north-south highways, including the famed Route 101, were closed temporarily as the fire jumped over the road and menaced beachfront homes.

The 'Skirball' fire ignited Wednesday morning and began to sweep through Bel Air, home to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, pop superstar Beyonce and other celebrities.

Police knocked on doors and used loudspeakers to make sure everybody had left their homes.

The singer Lionel Richie cancelled a concert to help his ex-wife flee the area, while comedian Chelsea Handler and designer Adrienne Maloof were among those tweeting that they had to evacuate.

Among those evacuated was model Chrissy Teigen, wife of singer John Legend.

'Never thought I'd get to actually play what I thought was a hypothetical game of what would you grab if there were a fire,' Teigen wrote on Twitter.

'We are fine and we will be fine. Thinking of everyone else affected and continuing my lifelong intense love of firefighters,' she added.

Forecasters predicted that the winds could cause fires to spread further, threatening more homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum.

The Getty – home to masterpieces including works by Monet and Rembrandt – was closed.

Museum authorities tweeted that air filtration systems are protecting the galleries from smoke.

The fires are the second outbreak to ravage parts of California this autumn.

The celebrated wine country in the northern part of the state was hit by wind-driven wildfires in October that killed at least 43 people, forced some 10,000 to flee their homes and consumed at least 245,000 acres (9,900 hectares) north of the San Francisco Bay area.

The California Department of Insurance said the northern California blazes caused insured losses of more than $9billion.

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Australia

Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative

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In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.

The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.

But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.

So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?

‘Just paperwork’

Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.

Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.

The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.

Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.

Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.

Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.

Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.

It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.

“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”

But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.

Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.

But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.

It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.

Critics push for investigation

Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.

But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.

And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.

Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.

Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.

“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.

“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”

The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.

Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.

And she says the same transparency is needed here.

The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them

The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.

“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.

“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”

PM defends governor-general

Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.

“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”

Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.

“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.

“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”

A role fit for purpose?

Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.

She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.

“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”

Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.

“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.

“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”

But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.

“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”

 

Read from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-62683210

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Australia election: PM Morrison’s security team in car crash in Tasmania

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A car carrying the Australian prime minister’s security team has crashed in Tasmania during an election campaign visit.

Four police officers were taken to hospital with “non-life threatening injuries” after the car and another vehicle collided, authorities said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not in the car, but the accident prompted him to cancel the rest of his campaign events on Thursday.

The other driver involved was not hurt.

Tasmania Police said initial investigations suggested the second car had “collided with the rear of the police vehicle, while attempting to merge”. It caused the unmarked security vehicle to roll off the road.

The two Tasmania Police officers and two Australian Federal Police officers were conscious when taken to hospital for medical assessment, the prime minister’s office said.

“Family members of the officers have been contacted and are being kept informed of their condition,” a statement said.

“The PM is always extremely grateful for the protection provided by his security team and extends his best wishes for their recovery and to their families.”

Australians go to the polls on 21 May. Mr Morrison – prime minister since 2018 – is hoping to win his conservative coalition’s fourth term in office.

Polls suggest the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is favoured to win. However, Mr Morrison defied similar polling to claim victory at the last election in 2019.

Mr Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.

Political observers say the cost of living, climate change, trust in political leaders, and national security will be among key issues in the campaign.

In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bully and once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.

Mr Albanese stumbled into his own controversy this week when he failed to recall the nation’s unemployment or interest rates.

Read from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-61103987

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Sydney airport warns delays could last weeks on third day of travel chaos

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Long queues at Sydney airport’s domestic terminals have continued for a third day, with some passengers missing international connections, as the airport warns delays resulting from a surge in travellers and a shortfall in security staff could continue for weeks.

Chaotic scenes were reported in the departure halls as early as 4.30am on Saturday, with some frustrated travellers, many of whom heeded the pleas of airport chiefs to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight was due to take off, claiming only one security line was operating.

While the queues that formed early on Saturday are understood to have cleared later in the morning, the airport apologised to affected travellers.

“Traffic numbers are picking up and the close contact rules are making it hard to fill shifts and staff the airport. We appreciate your patience,” Sydney airport said on its Twitter account.

A wave of families travelling as the term two school holidays begin this weekend, combined with close contact rules that are understood to be taking out about 20% of security shifts in any given day, are driving the problem.

Certis, the company that Sydney airport contracts for its security operations, is desperately trying to recruit personnel, while the airport has reallocated back office, IT and retail workers to the departure hall to comb queues so they can prioritise passengers at risk of missing their flight.

“We are working around the clock to resolve these issues and have teams in the terminals bringing passengers forward in order of priority,” a Sydney airport spokesperson said.

He added that the airport is “anticipating it will [be] busy right through the school holiday period and peak over the Easter and Anzac Day weekends, in some cases at 90% of pre-Covid passenger levels”.

“We’re deeply grateful to passengers for their ongoing patience and we’re sorry to everyone who has been inconvenienced,” the spokesperson said. “We would also like to thank passengers for getting to the airport early and treating staff and each other with kindness and respect.”

The Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was forced to clarify comments he made on Friday that passengers were “not match fit” and that those forgetting to remove laptops and aerosols from their bags at the security check contributing to the delays.

“Just to be clear, I’m not ‘blaming’ passengers,” Joyce said. “Of course it’s not their fault,” he said.

Qantas shed thousands of staff during the pandemic, and outsourced ground crews in a decision that was challenged in court.

On Saturday, Qantas also apologised to a Melbourne family left stranded in Sydney, after domestic flight delays caused them to miss an international trip.

Javiera Martinez, her partner Daniel Capurro and their three children were supposed to be flying to Chile on Friday to visit relatives they had not seen in three years.

But after their 8am Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed by half an hour, baggage handling and airport transfer delays in Sydney meant they couldn’t make their 11.30am LATAM Airlines flight to Santiago.

Martinez said the airline’s procedures at the airport were chaotic.

“We think Qantas didn’t behave appropriately. I got berated by the person at the counter – they never apologised, they never assumed any responsibility at all,” she said. “It was a rude conversation. We have been mistreated badly I would say.”

The PCR tests they need to travel have now expired and they will have to take them again as they wait for seats on the next flight to Santiago from Sunday.

The airline has apologised and paid for a night’s accommodation in Sydney.

“We sincerely apologise that the family missed their connecting flight on another airline due to delays moving through Sydney airport on Friday,” a Qantas spokesperson said.

The family is among many affected by hold ups amid the busiest travel period in two years, with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports warning passengers to arrive two hours before domestic flights.

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