California faces ‘new normal’ of intense wildfires, governor says

California Gov. Jerry Brown toured areas devastated by a large wildfire burning in Southern California on Saturday, and warned the state faces a "new normal" of fire risk exacerbated by climate change.

One death has been blamed on the so-called Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which broke out on Monday and like other large blazes burning in the region was fed by Santa Ana winds.

Nearly 800 homes and other structures have been destroyed in all the recent fires, including 537 in the Thomas Fire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.

"We're facing a new reality in this state, where fires threaten people’s lives, their property, their neighborhoods, and of course billions and billions of dollars," Brown said at a news conference. He called California a "very wonderful place, but a place that’s getting hotter."

RELATED: Photos of the horrifying wildfires

24 PHOTOS
Wildfire in Ventura County, California
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Wildfire in Ventura County, California
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 5: Smoke blows out of the burning palm trees as brush fire threaten homes on December 5, 2017 in Ventura, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 5: Firefighters work to control the western side of Grant Park as brushfire engulf most of the vegetation on the hill, on December 5, 2017 in Ventura, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A man waters his home as firefighters battle a wildfire as it burns along a hillside near homes in Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017. Fast-moving, wind-fueled brush fire exploded to about 10,000 acres in Ventura County Monday night, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A firefighter battles a wildfire as it burns along a hillside near homes in Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017. Fast-moving, wind-fueled brush fire exploded to about 10,000 acres in Ventura County Monday night, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman evacuates her home as a wildfire burns along a hillside near homes in Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017. Fast-moving, wind-fueled brush fire exploded to about 10,000 acres in Ventura County Monday night, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter looks at a house burnt to the ground during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, California on December 5, 2017. Fast-moving, wind-fueled brush fire exploded to about 10,000 acres in Ventura County Monday night, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A firefighter battles a wildfire as it burns along a hillside near homes in Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017. Fast-moving, wind-fueled brush fire exploded to about 10,000 acres in Ventura County Monday night, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
Embers blow from burned trees as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A home burns as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke rises into the night sky as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 4, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
A burned truck smolders on a country road at night as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
Downtown is darkened by a power outage with smoke rising in the distance as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres in Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
Embers blow from burned trees as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
Property burns at night as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
The burned remains of crashed cars are seen at night on a country road as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
A structure burns as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
The burned remains of crashed cars are seen at night on a country road as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
Property burns at night as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
A home burns as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
Embers blow from a tree shortly before it fell down near burned cars as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
A home burns as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew
A fire crew passes a burning home during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A firefighter inspects a burning home during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Embers blow from burned trees as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/David McNew TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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"And we know from the changing in the climate that it's going to exacerbate everything else," Brown said.

Firefighters have made good progress in battling six major fires that have broken out across Southern California over the past week, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said. But he warned that the danger is not over, and strong winds could continue into this week.

"We continue to make real good progress on all of these fires, but we’re far from being out of the woods on any of them," Pimlott said.

Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said that the Thomas Fire, which as of Saturday was at 148,000 acres and 15 percent contained, has grown in the northern areas, and he urged people to be prepared to leave if necessary.

Marie McTavish, 65, described a harrowing scene as she tried to evacuate horses to safety from the ranch her family has owned in Ojai for more than 30 years.

They loaded their horses and took them to the Ventura County Fairgrounds, but that was at capacity with other animals brought there as a refuge from the flames, and they made the trek to show grounds in Santa Barbara 25 miles away, she said in a phone interview Saturday.

"There was a wall of fire going to Santa Barbara on the 101" highway, McTavish said. Back at the West Winds Ranch, they placed garbage pails of water on the roof of a barn to protect it — the plastic pails melt if flames come near, releasing the water.

RELATED: Faces of those impacted by the California wildfires

16 PHOTOS
Faces of those impacted and battling the Ventura County, California wildfire
See Gallery
Faces of those impacted and battling the Ventura County, California wildfire
SHADOW HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 05:Judy Hofmann-Sanders hugs a firefighter on McBroom Street in Shadow Hills, where the Creek fire destroyed several homes. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Ventura County Firefighter Aaron Cohen catches his breath after fighting to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. 'We chased the fire from Santa Paula all the way into Ventura through the night,' Cohen said. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SYLMAR, CA - DECEMBER 5:A firefighter gets into position to battle the Creek Fire as a house is engulfed in flames near the intersection of Johanna Avenue and McBroom Street in Shadow Hills on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The fire started at about 3:42 a.m. in the area of Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads and has burned more than 11,000 acres. (Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SHADOW HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 05:Judy Hofmann-Sanders talks on the phone as her home is consumed by the Creek fire along McBroom Street in Shadow Hills. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Chino Valley Fire Engineer Chris Calvert works the engine as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Amanda Leon and husband Johnny Leon watch as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Local residents react as numerous homes burn on a hillside during a wind driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Local residents watch a home burn on a hillside during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A Ventura police officer squints his eyes in the smoke after using his fire extinguisher to put out a spot fire as strong winds carry a wildfire into Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Ventura policemen leave a neighborhood after checking a home as strong winds carry a wildfire into Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Firefighters battle flames from a Santa Ana wind-driven brush fire called the Thomas Fire in Santa Paula, California, December 4, 2017. Photo taken December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Tammy Hanna breaks into tears as she is hugged by husband Antoine as they are relieved their home was saved by Firefighters along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. 'We chased the fire from Santa Paula all the way into Ventura through the night,' Cohen said. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Wearing his Christmas garb Justin Ekback watches as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SHADOW HILLS, CA DECEMBER 05, 2017 -- Judy Hofmann-Sanders can only watch as her home is consumed by the Creek fire along McBroom Street in Shadow Hills. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Local residents pass by a burning house during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, California, on December 5, 2017. Firefighters battled a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California that has left at least one person dead, destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands to flee. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents Aaron Cohen hugs Tammy Hanna during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, California on December 5, 2017. Firefighters battled a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California that has left at least one person dead, destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands to flee. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
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"We saw the fire coming down the ridge," she said. Her property was saved. Others in Southern California were not so fortunate.

The so-called Lilac Fire that broke out in San Diego County on Thursday swept into San Luis Rey Training Facility, where it killed more than 40 elite thoroughbreds and destroyed more than 100 homes — most of them in the Rancho Monserate Country Club retirement community, the Associated Press reported.

That fire has burned 4,100 acres and was 50 percent contained Saturday, according to Cal Fire.

A fire erupted in the tony Los Angeles neighborhood of Bel-Air on Wednesday, destroying multimillion dollar homes not far from the Getty Center and its priceless art collection. The center reopened on Friday. The fire, dubbed the Skirball Fire, has burned 421 acres and was 75 percent contained Saturday, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

And the Creek Fire in Los Angeles County burning near the Los Angeles community of Sylmar, which had prompted evacuations, was 80 percent contained Saturday, according to Cal Fire. It burned more than 15,000 acres and destroyed 56 homes and 46 outbuildings since it broke out on Tuesday.

Parts of Northern California were devastated by large wildfires in October, which killed more than 40 people and destroyed around 8,900 homes and other structures.

Brown said that with climate change California can expect to get more droughts and fire conditions, and said there may need to be changes in the way forests and building are managed. "This is the new normal, and this could be something that happens every year or every few years — it happens, to some degree. It's just more intense, more widespread, and we're about ready to have firefighting at Christmas," Brown said.

Pimlott said that 8,500 firefighters were on the fire lines fighting the large blazes in Southern California Saturday. Ten western states, from Montana and New Mexico to Alaska, have sent firefighters and other assistance to California, Cal Fire said.

"It's December, and it's amazing to be able to say we aren’t out of fire season," Pimlott said. "And this is the challenge that we face in California and certainly here in Southern California, that it is a year-round challenge that we are all in." 

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