Fires rage on a hillside in a wealthy neighbourhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California. Picture: REUTERS
Fires rage on a hillside in a wealthy neighbourhood on the west side of Los Angeles, California. Picture: REUTERS

Los Angeles/San Francisco — Wildfires raging across Southern California have shut a major commuter artery in Los Angeles, suspended filming, wiped out more than $3bn of market value for regional utility Edison International, and are threatening some of the state’s lucrative crops.

Stretches of Interstate 405, which feeds major Los Angeles job centres, were shut as flames engulfed nearby mountainsides.

Neighbourhoods near the freeway and the famed Mulholland Drive, including parts of upscale Bel-Air, were evacuated.

Snap shut operations, and a major conference on microcap stocks that was scheduled to be held in Los Angeles until Thursday was cancelled. Ventura County, home to a third of California’s avocado acreage, has seen tens of thousands of acres consumed, and citrus growers have been affected.

The five wildfires come two months after the deadliest set of blazes in the state’s history broke out in Northern California’s wine country, racking up insured losses that top $9.4bn.

They are striking as the House and Senate are working on a final version of sweeping tax legislation that currently would phase out the deduction for personal casualty losses, including those from wildfires and earthquakes.

Edison plunged the most in 15 years on speculation that its power lines may be blamed, saddling the utility with the costs of damages. Energy explorer California Resources has halted production at several small oil fields in Ventura County and northwest Los Angeles County. The stock slid 9.2% Wednesday.

One fire is blazing near the Jewish museum Skirball Cultural Center, and the prominent Getty Center is just south. All filming activity in Los Angeles’s mountain fire zone areas was suspended for the week.

Murdoch estate

Rupert Murdoch’s Moraga Estate, where the media mogul operates a winery and lives with wife Jerry Hall in a 7,500-square-foot house, is in the evacuation zone.

Murdoch said in an e-mailed statement that some buildings in the upper vineyard area may have been damaged but he believed the winery and house remained intact. Murdoch acquired the property in 2013 for $28.8m.

Lemon grower Limoneira said it was still assessing crop damage but that it didn’t look "too bad at this point".

More than 150 structures were reported destroyed near Ventura. Dozens of schools in Ventura and Los Angeles counties were closed. The University of California at Los Angeles, adjacent to an evacuated area, cancelled classes and is monitoring the situation.

More than 8,000 customers were without power due to the wildfires, according to Edison’s Southern California Edison utility. A local transmission emergency was declared by the state’s grid operator after the loss of high-voltage power lines serving the Ventura and Santa Barbara areas. Fire officials said Wednesday that they’re looking at all possible causes for the blazes.

President Donald Trump, who owns a home in Beverly Hills, tweeted that his thoughts and prayers were with Californians affected by the fires and thanked emergency personnel for their work.

The threat of more wildfires is not over. Santa Ana winds will continue to whip through Southern California through the rest of this week, threatening to spread these blazes and ignite new ones, according to Accuweather.

By 7pm New York time, the Thomas fire wreaking havoc across Ventura County and the one that shut the freeway had yet to be contained.

Bloomberg

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