Strong winds pose fresh threat in California wildfires

VENTURA, Calif., Dec 9 (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown will survey the destruction of the state's devastating wildfires on Saturday, as firefighters rushed to contain the blazes before dry desert winds were expected to intensify.

The six major wildfires that erupted throughout Southern California in the past week have killed at least one person, destroyed hundreds of buildings, forced more than 200,000 people to flee and choked the air across much of the region.

Forecasters predict wind gusts to become more intense by Saturday night, challenging the 8,700 firefighters who have been battling the fast-moving blazes for five days.

The winds "potentially put the fires that are currently burning at risk of spreading," said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).

16 PHOTOS
Faces of those impacted and battling the Ventura County, California wildfire
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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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Brown plans to meet at noon PST (2000 GMT) with residents and officials in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, where officials said the largest of the blazes, the Thomas Fire, has charred 148,000 acres (59,893 hectares) and destroyed 537 structures.

"We're going to recover. Have no doubt about that," the governor said on Twitter on Friday.

The spreading fires prompted Brown to issue emergency proclamations earlier this week for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles and Ventura counties, while U.S. President Donald Trump issued a federal proclamation that enables agencies to coordinate relief efforts.

The fires have put property worth billions of dollars at risk in California, where wildfires in the northern part of the state in October resulted in insured losses of more than $9 billion. Those fires, concentrated in the state's wine country, killed 43 people.

The current fires, which have threatened Californians from near Santa Barbara County down the Pacific coast to Mexico, have claimed at least one human casualty.

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Aerial images of Ventura County, California wildfire
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Aerial images of Ventura County, California wildfire
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: View of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Homes burned to the ground in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is fully involved in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is fully involved in fire and others destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is fully involved in fire and others destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: View of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SYLMAR, CA, DECEMBER 5: Flames encroach on structures in the hills above Sylmar fire from helicopter in Los Angeles County, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017. (Photo by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - FEBRUARY 25: LA County Fire helicopters make water drops to halt forward progress of the10 acre brush fire called the Mulholland Fire in the western Malibu hills near the Ventura County line Thursday morning as hand crews work to cut a control line around the blaze. A fire crew inmate suffered major injuries from fallng rock while battling the fire and was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - FEBRUARY 25: LA County Fire helicopters make water drops to halt forward progress of the10 acre brush fire called the Mulholland Fire in the western Malibu hills near the Ventura County line Thursday morning as hand crews work to cut a control line around the blaze. A fire crew inmate suffered major injuries from fallng rock while battling the fire and was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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Officials determined late Friday that a 70-year-old Ventura County woman who died after a car crash along an evacuation route on Wednesday suffered smoke inhalation and burns, the Ventura County Star newspaper reported, citing medical examiner Christopher Young.

Ventura County officials, who have contained 15 percent of the Thomas Fire, said they expect to increase their containment of the blaze later on Saturday.

At their peak, the fires drove about 212,000 Californians from their homes. Evacuation orders now have been lifted in some areas, welcome news for many in shelters waiting to see if their homes survived.

North of San Diego, the Lilac Fire destroyed 105 structures after swelling from 10 acres to 4,100 acres (1,659 hectares) in a few hours on Thursday.

Fallbrook, known for its avocado orchards, burned, and homes were destroyed in its Rancho Monserate Country Club retirement community. Blazes approached the Camp Pendleton marine base.

A 500-stall stable for thoroughbred race horses at San Luis Rey Downs training site burned late on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

An estimated 25 to 30 horses died, in addition to 29 horses killed in Los Angeles earlier in the week. A trainer suffered second- and third-degree burns over half her body trying to rescue horses, the newspaper said. She was airlifted to a San Diego hospital and placed in a medically induced coma.

(Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Nick Zieminski)

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