World

LA suburbs now sites of horror, carnage

By AAP Newswire

The ear-splitting alert reverberated throughout my home just after 2am on Friday.

I was hoping it would not come, but knew it was on the way.

The smoke from burning homes and trees was making it hard to breathe as I sat in my living room watching the live TV coverage of nearby homes I recognised erupting in flames.

There's a weather phenomenon that strikes Southern California in autumn - the Santa Anas.

They are hot, dry, powerful winds formed in the Great Basin in Nevada and hurtle toward the California coastline.

It rarely rains in the region so just one spark on the bone-dry landscape is a recipe for disaster.

On Thursday evening the Santa Anas roared and one-by-one the suburbs around my home caught fire - Hidden Hills, Oak Park, Calabasas, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills and Thousand Oaks.

The suburbs are Los Angeles' best kept secrets.

Beautiful slices of Americana tucked behind the Pacific Ocean, Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains.

The suburbs have become magnets for not only celebrities like Will Smith, the Kardashians and Jamie Fox but Australian, New Zealand, British and other expats looking to set up a home close enough to commute to LA, but far enough away to avoid many of its problems.

The last two days the area has been home to horrors.

Just hours before the inferno I had the grim task of attempting to find out if Australians were among the 12 victims shot dead in the mass-shooting at Thousand Oaks' Borderline Bar & Grill.

It was gut-wrenching observing the pain family members suffered waiting to hear if their loved ones were alive.

Hours later the community faced the inferno.

"This is an emergency message from the Ventura County Sheriff's Office," the voice after the high-pitched alert announced on my iPhone said.

"Your neighbourhood is now under a mandatory evacuation order.

"The threat is imminent, please evacuate the area immediately."

Ventura and LA emergency services have outstanding alert systems and my wife and myself were ready.

When we received the voluntary evacuation request an hour earlier we packed the boot of our car with clothes, food, toys, family photos and passports not knowing if they would be our only possessions if the house caught fire.

Our young son and daughter weren't happy when we pulled them out of their beds and into the car but they became quiet when we all looked up at a nearby hillside and saw a wall of flames.

Normally vacant streets were jammed with other cars fleeing.

We had a choice - drive west on the 101 Freeway toward Santa Barbara or east to LA.

We drove to LA and the only cars heading the opposite way were fire and police vehicles with lights and sirens on heading toward the flames.

I thought about Ventura County Sheriffs sergeant Ron Helus who just a day earlier sped to the Borderline Bar & Grill and was shot dead by the mass-killer.

Authorities said 95,331 people have been evacuated from Ventura County alone - with tens of thousands more from LA and other counties.

More than 25,000 structures were damaged in the county.

We found a hotel and are back watching TV as wildfires scorch huge areas across the Santa Monica Mountains on their way to Malibu.

It looks like our home will be OK, but we can't be sure.

A slight wind change and it could quickly go.