Easing winds give firefighters a break in California wildfire battle

Easing winds give firefighters a break in California wildfire battle
By Rollo Ross

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Fierce, dry Santa Ana winds off the Southern California mountains eased early on Friday, helping firefighters make progress in corralling major wildfires that have displaced thousands of residents.

A fresh spate of wildfires had roared to life on Thursday in hilly neighborhoods outside Los Angeles, destroying homes and forcing yet more evacuations before the Santa Ana winds lost their punch overnight.

The Maria Fire swelled to torch more than 8,000 acres (3,240 hectares) of Ventura County after igniting on Thursday evening, threatening some 1,800 homes and other structures, according to the county fire department. About 7,500 residents were ordered to find lodgings elsewhere for Halloween night, and dozens of schools were closed on Friday.

East of Los Angeles, the Hillside Fire scorched more than 200 acres (80 hectares) of the San Bernardino National Forest, burning residential areas in the north end of the city of San Bernardino, destroying at least six homes on Thursday, the county’s fire department said.

Crews managed to carve containment lines around 50% of the fire’s perimeter. No injuries were reported.

The dry Santa Ana winds that howl down from the mountains every autumn in Southern California were forecast to abate on Friday, although there could still be fire-fuelling gusts of 15 to 20 miles per hour (25 to 32 km per hour), the National Weather Service said.

A fire that erupted early on Monday near the famed Getty Center art museum in west Los Angeles threatened thousands of homes in some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods but was largely suppressed, with containment listed at 40%.

Residents were allowed to return to most of the 10,000 homes that had been ordered evacuated. The museum emerged unscathed, but about a dozen dwellings were lost in the 745-acre (301-hectare) Getty fire and two firefighters were injured.

About 30 miles (50 km) to the northwest, a fire raged to the edge of the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Ventura County’s Simi Valley on Wednesday, threatening thousands of homes, but was 60 percent contained early on Friday. Firefighters doused flames before they could reach the library.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co  acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire, a blaze that charred 77,000 acres (31,160 hectares) of Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco, started last week near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a high-voltage line on that tower malfunctioned.

That blaze has burned more than 77,700 acres and destroyed at least 349 homes and other structures but was listed as 65% contained on Thursday evening.

PG&E, which over this past weekend began shutting off power to 940,000 California customers to guard against the risk of an electrical mishap sparking a blaze, said late on Thursday it had restored electricity to virtually all customers.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Alex Dobuzinskis in Culver City, California, and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)

Wildfire threatens homes, prompts evacuations in Pacific Palisades, California

Smoke can be seen as a wild fire breaks out in the hills of Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, California, U.S., October 21, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Wildfire threatens homes, prompts evacuations in Pacific Palisades, California
(Reuters) – A wildfire raced up a steep hillside to threaten homes in the Southern California coastal enclave of Pacific Palisades on Monday, prompting evacuations as water-dropping helicopters and firefighters swarmed the area to battle the flames.

Live aerial video footage broadcast by KABC-TV showed tall flames raging along a ridge-line at the edge of a neighborhood, burning perilously close to several homes as authorities urged residents to flee.

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said on the broadcast that winds were relatively light, giving firefighting teams at least one advantage, because there was less chance of burning embers being spread ahead of the flames.

Large, repeated water drops from firefighting helicopters appeared to be keeping the fire mostly at bay from the neighborhood. No injuries were reported.

Residents who had been trying to help douse the blaze with garden hoses from their backyards were seen scrambling for cover at one point when a large clump of vegetation burst into heavy flames.

The blaze in Pacific Palisades, located between Santa Monica and Malibu about 18 miles (29 km) west of downtown Los Angeles, came about two weeks after a major wind-driven wildfire scorched nearly 8,000 acres along the northern edge of Los Angeles, damaging or destroying dozens of structures and prompting evacuations of some 23,000 homes.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Divers search for last bodies in California boat fire, 25 dead, 9 missing

Rescue personnel return to shore with the victims of a pre-dawn fire that sank a commercial diving boat off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, U.S., September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

By Omar Younis

Santa Barbara, Calif. (Reuters) – Divers searched for more bodies early on Tuesday around the wreck of a boat destroyed by a blaze off the coast of southern California, as authorities launched an investigation into one of the area’s worst maritime disasters.

Emergency crews found at least 25 bodies after the fire broke out before dawn on Monday, leaving nine people still missing, the Associated Press reported. The coastguard declined to confirm the figures.

“We are looking for bodies now,” said Santa Barbara Fire Department spokeswoman Amber Anderson.

Flames ripped through the scuba diving vessel Conception, as it was moored off Santa Cruz Island, trapping the passengers below deck. Five of the six-strong crew managed to escape in an inflatable boat, but no one else has been found.

The boat sank later in the morning and was currently lying upside down under more than 60 feet (18 meters) of water, police said.

Witnesses reported hearing a number of explosions, but authorities said it was too early to say what caused the fire. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said on Monday scuba or propane tanks on the Conception may have blown up in the flames.

The federal National Transportation Safety Board said it had sent a team of engineers and fire specialists to investigate the blaze.

There were a total of 33 passengers and six crew members onboard the Conception, a 75-foot boat, when the fire started at about 3:15 a.m. on Monday, officials said.

The surviving crew members sought refuge on a fishing boat moored nearby, banging on the side to wake up Bob Hansen and his wife, who were sleeping onboard.

“When we looked out, the other boat was totally engulfed in flames, from stem to stern,” Hansen told the New York Times. “There were these explosions every few beats. You can’t prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous.”

After borrowing clothes from the Hansens, some crew members headed back toward the Conception to look for survivors without luck, Hansen said.

Investigators said a single mayday call came from the boat reporting the fire.

“It happened quickly enough so many people could not get off,” U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Matthew Kroll told CNN.

The diving boat was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a Santa Barbara, California, excursion firm. It said on its website that the Conception was on a three-day excursion to the Channel Islands, and was due back in Santa Barbara at 5 p.m. on Monday.

The boat’s owner, Truth Aquatics, referred queries about the accident to a joint media center. “This is still an ongoing search and rescue,” it said.

(Reporting by Omar Younis; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely and Jonathan Allen in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis and Bill Tarrant in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Shaken communities take stock of damage after Southern California quakes

A house left destroyed by a powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake, triggered by a 6.4 the previous day, is seen at night near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

By Alan Devall

RIDGECREST, Calif. (Reuters) – High desert communities in Southern California on Saturday assessed damage and braced for potentially dangerous aftershocks from a major earthquake that shook buildings, ruptured gas lines and sparked fires near the remote epicenter of the second temblor in as many days.

A house is left destroyed by an earthquake, triggered by a previous day quake, near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

A house is left destroyed by an earthquake, triggered by a previous day quake, near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

The powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked the Mojave Desert town of Ridgecrest south of Death Valley National Park as darkness fell on Friday, jolting the area with eight times more force than a 6.4 quake that struck the same area 34 hours earlier.

California Governor Gavin Newsom placed the state Office of Emergency Services (OES) on its highest alert and requested federal assistance.

He told a news conference in Ridgecrest on Saturday that he had just got off a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, seeking a presidential emergency declaration.

“I have full confidence that the president will be forthcoming, in immediate terms, with the formal declaration,” Newsom said, flanked by first responders.

Cracks emerge on a road after an earthquake broke in Trona, California, U.S., in this photo from the USGS posted on July 6, 2019. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

Cracks emerge on a road after an earthquake broke in Trona, California, U.S., in this photo from the USGS posted on July 6, 2019. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

There were several minor to moderate injuries, OES Director Mark Ghilarducci told reporters.

“No reports of any fatalities, so I think we’re very lucky there,” he said.

There were reports of building fires, mostly as a result of gas leaks or gas-line breaks, Ghilarducci said.

State officials said all roads damaged by the quakes had been repaired and reopened.

Violent shaking also caused water-main breaks and knocked out power and communications to parts of Ridgecrest, home to about 27,000 people some 125 miles (200 km) northeast of Los Angeles.

Officials warned there was sure to be a significant number of aftershocks, including possible powerful ones, and advised residents to ensure they had necessary supplies.

“I’ve said this ad nauseam: be prepared for the worst,” said Newsom, who on Saturday met victims in the hospital and visited a hardware store where the earthquake hurled products from shelves and left ceiling tiles scattered across the aisles.

Standing outside her damaged home in Ridgecrest, life-long resident Sierra Wood said it was heartbreaking and scary.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” she said. “I mean – they say that it’s happened and you’ve heard about it. But once you’re in it, it’s completely different, it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying.”

Her husband, Keith Wood, said the aftershocks were grueling.

“It’s like when, when do we get a break from it?” he said. “When is enough enough? Mother Nature has had her way. Give us a break now, OK?”

Evacuees leave a fire station with their belongings after an earthquake near Trona, California, U.S. July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Evacuees leave a fire station with their belongings after an earthquake near Trona, California, U.S. July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

The sprawling U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake just northwest of Ridgecrest was evacuated of all non-essential personnel following the quake.

The facility, which at more than 1.1 million acres (445,000 hectares) is larger than the state of Rhode Island, reported no injuries. Authorities were assessing any damage to buildings or other infrastructure, according to a post on the base’s Facebook page.

MORE TO COME

Friday’s earthquake was widely felt across Southern California, including greater Los Angeles, where shaking in some areas lasted about 40 seconds. Low-level rumbling extended as far north as the San Francisco Bay area and beyond to Reno, Nevada, and as far east as Phoenix, Arizona.

Seismologists said the initial quake on Thursday, and scores of smaller ones that followed it, proved to be foreshocks to Friday’s larger temblor, which now ranks as Southern California’s most powerful since a 7.1 quake that struck near a U.S. Marine Corps base in the Mojave Desert in 1999.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday’s quake was immediately followed by at least 16 aftershocks of magnitude 4 or greater and warned of a 50 percent chance of another magnitude 6 quake in the coming days. Geologists put the chance of another magnitude 7 tremor at 10 percent over the next week.

There were hundreds of aftershocks of 2.5 magnitude or greater in the area surrounding the epicenter, according to USGS data.

Victor Abdullatif was helping clean up broken bottles and other debris inside his father’s liquor store, the Eastridge Market, which sustained damage to its ceiling, and found the periodic aftershocks unnerving.

“They’re still scary because you almost don’t know, ‘Is this going to be a full earthquake?’ You have to kind of have faith that it’s just an aftershock,” he told Reuters.

The last major destructive quake to hit Southern California was the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake in 1994, which struck a densely populated area of Los Angeles. It killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars in property damage.

The comparatively limited damage from Friday’s quake, which packed greater force than the Northridge event, was a function of its location in a remote, less developed area.

Its ground motion, however, startled seismically jaded Southern Californians over a wide region.

Pools in Los Angeles sloshed wildly, and TV cameras at Dodger Stadium were shaking as they filmed the night Major League Baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

A television anchorwoman ducked out of sight during a local newscast as shouts of “get under a desk” were heard in the background.

(Reporting by Alan Devall; Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant, Steve Gorman, Alex Dobuzinskis, Joseph Ax and Keith Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Toby Chopra, Will Dunham and David Gregorio)

Strong aftershock jolts California as residents mop up after quake

Fissures that opened up under a highway during a powerful earthquake that struck Southern California are seen near the city of Ridgecrest, California, U.S., July 4, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

By David McNew

RIDGECREST, Calif. (Reuters) – A strong aftershock shook Southern California early on Friday as residents were still assessing the damage from the July 4 quake, the strongest in the region in 25 years, which was felt by more than 20 million people.

The temblor, one of many aftershocks predicted by seismologists, struck the same desert region as Thursday’s major earthquake with a magnitude of 5.4 about 11 miles (18 km) west of Searles Valley at 4:07 a.m. local time, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

There had already been more than 80 smaller aftershocks since Thursday’s 6.4 magnitude quake near the city of Ridgecrest, which was felt from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, USGS seismologist Lucy Jones said.

“We should be expecting lots of aftershocks and some of them will be bigger than the 3s we’ve been having so far,” Jones told reporters on Thursday. “I think the chance of having a magnitude 5 … is probably greater than 50-50,” she said.

Some residents spent much of their July 4 holiday cleaning up the mess left by the quake.

“I mopped up over 20 gallons (75 liters) of wine that fell over in addition to the beer, soda and the cooler that fell over. We have several thousand dollars worth of damage,” said shopkeeper James Wilhorn.

Only a few injuries were reported, but two houses caught fire from broken gas pipes, officials said. Water gushed from zigzagged cracks in the pavement from busted water lines. Deep fissures snaked across the Mojave Desert, with passersby stopping to take selfies while standing in the rendered earth.

The quake hit the edge of Death Valley National Park about 113 miles northeast of Los Angeles at about 10:30 a.m. on Thursday. It was very shallow, only 6.7 miles (10.7 km) deep, amplifying its effect, and was felt in an area inhabited by 20 million people, the European quake agency EMSC said.

The Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, where 15 patients were evacuated earlier, appeared intact apart from some new cracks in the walls.

California Governor Gavin Newsom approved an emergency proclamation, and Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said she had declared a state of emergency, a step that enables the town to receive help from outside agencies.

Breeden said she has asked residents to check on their neighbors in the high desert town.

“We’re a close-knit community and everybody is working to take care of each other,” she told Reuters by telephone.

The quake is the largest in Southern California since the 1994 magnitude 6.6 Northridge earthquake, USGS geophysicist Paul Caruso said. That quake, which was centered in a heavily populated area of Los Angeles, killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.

(Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant in Los Angeles, Sandra Maler in Washington, Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles, Gabriella Borter and Daniel Trotta and Peter Szekely in New York, Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Peter Graff and Chizu Nomiyama)

Police examine motive of man accused of deadly California synagogue attack

A car, allegedly used by the gunman who killed one at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, is pictured, few hundred feet from the Interstate 15 off-ramp north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019. REUTERS/John Gastaldo

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Police were examining the motive on Monday of the man accused of a deadly shooting at a synagogue in Southern California, after determining the 19-year-old gunman acted alone.

The gunman walked into the Chabad of Poway in suburban San Diego on Saturday and killed one woman and wounded three other people inside, using an assault-style rifle, police said.

The Poway mayor over the weekend called the shooting a hate crime. The accused gunman, John T. Earnest, appears to be the author of an online manifesto who claimed to have previously set fire to a mosque and drawn inspiration from last month’s mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people.

Saturday’s bloodshed in Poway came at the end of the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover and unfolded six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed by a gunman who stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Earnest, who has been held without bail, is scheduled to appear in a San Diego court on Wednesday to face a charge of murder and three counts of attempted murder, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department website.

The gunman is believed to have carried out the shooting without support from anyone else, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore said in a statement on Sunday.

“We are continuing to explore every investigative avenue to bring out all the facts in this case,” Gore said.

Earnest fled in a car as an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent, who had been at the synagogue, fired at his vehicle. The teenager later called police to surrender.

Authorities are investigating Earnest’s possible involvement in the March 24 pre-dawn arson fire at the Islamic Center of Escondido, a town about 15 miles (24 km) north of Poway, Gore said.

The slain victim, Lori Kaye, was a founding member of the Chabad of Poway congregation, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was among the three wounded victims, told reporters.

Another survivor, Israel Dahan, whose 8-year-old daughter was wounded, told Israel Radio on Sunday that the attacker’s gun jammed.

Worshipper Oscar Stewart, 51, rushed the gunman and chased him outside before another person, the off duty Border Patrol agent, opened fire, Gore said.

Stewart is a U.S. Army veteran and works as an electrician, the Los Angeles Times reported.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Midwest floods hammer U.S. ethanol industry, push some gasoline prices toward five-year high

FILE PHOTO: A motel, restaurant and travel stop are shown surrounded by flood waters in this aerial photo in Percival, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

By Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The March floods that punished the U.S. Midwest have roiled the ethanol industry, hammering prices and trapping barrels in the country’s interior while the U.S. coasts suffer from shortages of the biofuel.

The historic March floods have dealt a series of blows to large swaths of an ethanol industry that was already struggling with high inventories and sluggish domestic demand growth. And the ethanol shortages are one factor pushing gasoline prices in Los Angeles and Southern California to the highest in the nation and they could top $4 a gallon for the first time since 2014, according to tracking firm GasBuddy.

Benchmark price for ethanol used in most supply contracts initially jumped on news of the floods but has been hobbled by rising waters around the Chicago hub that have halted barges and sales. That stands in contrast to prices on the coasts, which rose dramatically – drawing in heavy imports from Brazil, the main U.S. ethanol competitor.

The floods inflicted billions of dollars in damage to crops and homes in the U.S. Midwest, and knocked out roughly 13 percent of ethanol capacity.

U.S. ethanol is made from corn and required by the government to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply to reduce emissions.

While some ethanol plants were flooded, the primary effect of the rising waters was to shut rail lines that serve as the main arteries for corn and ethanol deliveries.

Ethanol prices on the coasts spiked due to shortages, but Midwest producers have been unable to take advantage because of washed-out rail lines, market sources told Reuters.

“Unfortunately for anyone who was impacted by logistics issues it was a double whammy. You couldn’t capture the rally,” said one trader.

At Chicago’s Argo terminal, the nation’s main ethanol pricing hub, the cash price for ethanol fell for an eighth straight session last week to $1.29 a gallon, the longest downward skid since April of last year, according to Oil Price Information Service, which does daily assessments.

Initially, fears of widespread plant outages boosted that benchmark, but plants proved more resilient than expected, continuing to produce despite logistical challenges.

U.S. ethanol inventories were at 24 million barrels for the week ended March 29, just off a record hit a week earlier, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

Chicago’s price acts as the benchmark for millions of barrels bought and sold via longer-term supply contracts each day. While that price faltered, ethanol prices at the coast have surged, helping plants owned by Pacific Ethanol Inc and White Energy in California and Texas to take advantage of higher prices.

Ethanol delivered into Los Angeles typically trades at 20 cents a gallon higher than Chicago, but that premium rose to as high as 50 cents a gallon, traders said. The price in New York Harbor was at roughly double normal levels, traders said.

The tight ethanol supplies, along with refinery outages, boosted retail gasoline prices and led to some gas station shutdowns in the West as blenders there lacked the ethanol needed to blend with gasoline to make fuel that meets government regulations.

Gas prices in Arizona averaged $2.88 per gallon on Sunday, 17 percent higher than last month, according to the American Automobile Association. Prices were even steeper in California at $3.78 a gallon, well above the national average of $2.74 a gallon.

“Ultimately, Los Angeles could get close to seeing that average at $4 a gallon,” Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at tracking firm GasBuddy, said, adding that much of that increase will come because of refinery outages in the state.

At least one county in California has already surpassed $4 a gallon. The highest recorded average price for the state was $4.67 a gallon, in October 2012, according to AAA.

The high coastal prices attracted barrels from the biggest U.S. competitor: Brazil. Overall ethanol imports to the United States totaled 558,279 barrels in March, the most seasonally since 2013, according to Refinitiv Eikon ship tracking data. Most of the imports during the month came from Brazil, according to the tracking data.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Mudslide risk in Southern California wildfire zones prompts evacuation of thousands

Mud flows along a beach in Malibu, California, U.S., December 6, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Mike Gardner/via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Heavy rains and the threat of mudslides in Southern California forced the closure of a key coastal highway near Malibu on Thursday and prompted authorities to order evacuations of almost 3,000 residents from hillside areas scarred by recent wildfires.

The same Pacific storm also brought snow to the region’s high country, leading to the temporary closure of a stretch of Interstate 5 called the Grapevine, a major truck route that traverses a mountain pass north of Los Angeles, officials said.

The storm, which led the National Weather Service to issue flash-flood warnings for parts of Southern California, heightened concerns about the long-term risk of mudslides and debris flows around communities where wildfires have stripped foothills and canyon slopes of vegetation.

Last month, the Woolsey Fire incinerated 1,500 buildings and charred 97,000 acres (39,000 hectares) in the upscale coastal enclave of Malibu and adjacent areas near Los Angeles, leaving large swaths of hilly landscape vulnerable to slides and flooding.

“The fires have generated some risks that we need to be aware of and be cautious of for several years into the future,” Cindy Matthews, a senior National Weather Service hydrologist, said.

About 2,700 people were ordered evacuated from Lake Elsinore and surrounding Riverside County communities about 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles, where rains threatened to unleash rivers of mud, boulders and other debris down hillsides, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Captain Fernando Herrera.

Some mudflows occurred on Thursday in the area, burned earlier this year by the Holy fire, but no major property damage was reported, Herrera said.

The threat of mudslides in the Woolsey Fire zone around Malibu was not deemed severe enough to trigger evacuations there, Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Tony Imbrenda said.

However, as a heavy debris flow smothered a nearby section of Pacific Coast Highway, forcing authorities to close that stretch of the scenic highway for a few hours.

In all, the storm dumped more than 3 inches (8 cm) of rain in some parts of Southern California, according to the National Weather Service.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)

Ex-Marine apparently acted alone in California bar shooting: FBI

The body of Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus, who was shot and killed in a mass shooting at a bar is transferred to a hearse for procession from the Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California, U.S., November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu

By Alex Dobuzinskis

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (Reuters) – A former U.S. Marine combat veteran opened fire in a Los Angeles area bar packed with line-dancing college students, killing 12 people in a mass shooting that stunned a bucolic Southern California community with a reputation for safety.

The gunman, identified by police as 28-year-old Ian David Long, was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound following the Wednesday night massacre at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, a suburb 40 miles (64 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, law enforcement officials said.

Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, said it was too early to speculate on the shooter’s motives but that he appeared to have acted alone.

“We will be sure to paint a picture of the state of mind of the subject and do our best to identify a motivation,” Delacourt said, adding that the FBI would investigate any possible “radicalization” or links to militant groups.

Long opened fire, seemingly at random, inside the barn-style, Western-themed bar at about 11:30 p.m. PST (0730 GMT Thursday), using a .45 caliber Glock handgun equipped with a high-capacity magazine, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.

Long was in the Marine Corps from 2008 to 2013, reaching the rank of corporal and serving as a machine gunner in Afghanistan, and the sheriff said he may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Obviously, he had something going on in his head that would cause him to do something like this,” Dean said.

DISTURBANCE CALL

Dean told reporters that in April officers had gone to Long’s home in nearby Newbury Park, about 4 miles (6 km) from the bar to answer a disturbance call and found him agitated. Mental health specialists talked with Long and determined that no further action was necessary, the sheriff said.

“He was raving hell in the house, you know, kicking holes in the walls and stuff and one of the neighbors was concerned and called the police,” Richard Berge, who lived one block away from the home, told Reuters. “They couldn’t get him to come out, so it was like a standoff for four or five hours.”

Berge, who took care of Long’s mother’s dogs, said she told him following that incident she worried her son might take his own life but did not fear he would hurt her.

Dean said he had been told that 150 to 200 people were in the Borderline at the time Long opened fire, adding: “It could have been much, much worse.”

Asked what the scene inside the bar was like, Dean said, “Like … hell.” Earlier he had described it as “a horrific scene in there. There is blood everywhere and the suspect is part of that.”

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said 21 people had been treated for injuries and released at area hospitals.

LATEST MASS SHOOTING

The massacre was the latest shooting rampage in the United States amid a fierce debate over gun control.

After a man fatally shot 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue last month, U.S. President Donald Trump said their deaths could have been prevented if an armed guard had been stationed inside the temple.

Long shot an unarmed security guard outside the bar before going inside, where he fired on security staff, CNN reported.

Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Ron Helus, a 29-year veteran, was killed inside. He and a California Highway Patrol officer were the first to arrive at the bar just before 11:30 p.m. PST (0730 GMT) to confront the gunman.

Trump ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff at public buildings and grounds.

The Borderline is popular with students and was hosting a College Country Night at the time of the shooting. Nearby California Lutheran University canceled classes on Thursday while Pepperdine University, about 20 miles away, planned a prayer service.

Cole Knapp, 19, was inside the bar when the shooting began and told Reuters he saw the gunman walk in and stop at the counter as if to pay a cover charge before he heard gunshots ring out and a young woman at the counter hit with multiple rounds.

“It took a couple of seconds for people to realize what was going on and once that happened it was just utter chaos,” he said.

Knapp said he helped people hide behind a pool table and then fled outside, alerting people on an outdoor smoking patio and helping carry a victim to an ambulance.

SAFE CITY

Thousand Oaks, a leafy, sprawling suburb of 127,000 people, was named the third safest city in the United States for 2018 by the Niche research company.

“I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what community you’re in,” Dean said. “It doesn’t matter how safe your community is. It can happen anywhere.”

In the hours after the shooting concerned family members gathered at a nearby teen center waiting to learn the fate of loved ones.

Jason Coffman wept as he told reporters that his son, Cody, 22, was among the dead.

“Only him and I know how I love, how much I miss him,” he said. “Oh, son, I love you so much.”

Actress Tamera Mowry-Housley confirmed in a statement to ABC News that her niece, Alaina, was killed at the bar.

Among those outside the hospital was Ellen Rivera, who said she had survived the October 2017 slaughter of 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

At nightfall more than 2,000 mourners gathered at a local performing arts center for a candlelight vigil on behalf of the victims, singing “Amazing Grace” and praying. Loud sobs could be heard throughout the 45 minute vigil.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Rich McKay in Atlanta, Doina Chiacu in Washington, D.C., Gina Cherelus and Gabriella Borter in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Grant McCool)

Ferocious winds whip California fires as death toll rises to 31

The Camp Fire burns near Big Bend, California, U.S., November 10, 2018. Picture taken November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen La

By Stephen Lam

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – The death toll from wildfires raging in California rose to 31 on Sunday after six more people were found killed in what was poised to become the deadliest wildfire in state history.

Officials said the bodies of five people were found in burned-out homes and the sixth was found in a vehicle in northern California’s Camp Fire, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters on Sunday evening.

Some 228 people are still unaccounted for, Honea said, while another 137 people have been located after friends or relatives reported being unable to contact them.

A Butte County Sheriff deputy places yellow tape at the scene where human remains were found during the Camp fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

A Butte County Sheriff deputy places yellow tape at the scene where human remains were found during the Camp fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The so-called Camp Fire in the northern part of the state has claimed at least 29 lives since it broke out on Thursday. Hundreds of miles to the south, at least two people have died in the Woolsey Fire threatening the wealthy beach community of Malibu, near Los Angeles.

Looting was reported in the southern fire area and arrests were made, police reported.

Hot dry winds expected to blow until Tuesday whipped up the flames and heightened the urgency of evacuation orders, officials said. It has been more than 210 days since the area received half an inch or more of rain, making it easy for spot fires to spread to fresh patches of tinder-dry vegetation, fire officials said on Sunday.

“We are entering a new normal,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, noting at a news conference that California’s fires in 2018 grow far more quickly than they did even 10 years ago.

“The rate of spread is exponentially more than it used to be,” he said.

Several officials urged residents to heed evacuation orders, noting they themselves had followed orders to leave their homes for safety.

Nov 10, 2018; Malibu, CA, USA; Nothing is left standing in one home on Deerhead Road. The area was overrun by the Woosley Fire which has consumed 70,000 acres as of 10/10/2018. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

Nov 10, 2018; Malibu, CA, USA; Nothing is left standing in one home on Deerhead Road. The area was overrun by the Woosley Fire which has consumed 70,000 acres as of 10/10/2018. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

“Winds are already blowing,” Chief Daryl Osby of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said. “They are going to blow for the next three days. Your house can be rebuilt but you can’t bring your life back.”

Crews pushed forward to achieve 25 percent containment of the Camp Fire in northern California, which had burned 111,000 acres (45,000 hectares) at the edge of the Plumas National Forest, according to Cal Fire’s website.

In Southern California, where the Woolsey Fire scorched at least 83,275 acres, the blaze was only 10 percent contained.

The Camp Fire burned down more than 6,700 homes and businesses in Paradise, more structures than any other California wildfire on record.

Its death toll now equals that of the Griffith Park Fire in 1933, the deadliest wildfire on record in California.

Several of the bodies discovered earlier this week were found in or near burned out cars, police have said. The flames descended on Paradise so fast that many people were forced to abandon their vehicles and run for their lives down the only road through the mountain town.

Winds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour) were forecast to blow in the north and gusts of up to 70 mph (113 kph), the so-called Santa Ana “devil wind,” were expected in Southern California.

The Woolsey Fire doubled in size from Friday night into Sunday, threatening thousands of homes after triggering mandatory evacuation orders for a quarter million people in the upscale Malibu beach colony as well as other communities in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Many celebrities live in the area. Despite earlier news reports, including by Reuters, that the fire had destroyed the home of Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender advocate and former athlete, her publicist said on Sunday that it had survived.

The entire nearby city of Calabasas, home to more than 20,000 people, was placed under a mandatory evacuation order by city officials on Sunday evening.

Governor Jerry Brown asked U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster to bolster the emergency response and help residents recover.

Trump, on a trip to France, said in a Twitter post early Sunday: “With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!”

The Republican president has previously blamed California officials for fires and threatened to withhold funding, saying the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel blazes.

State officials have blamed climate change and said many of the burn areas have been in federally managed lands.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Paradise; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Dan Whitcomb and Dana Feldman in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Allen in New York, and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Sandra Maler)