(LOS ANGELES) — A suspected arsonist was on the loose Sunday morning after igniting a brush fire in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles County that has spread to more than 700 acres and is threatening homes and prompting mandatory evacuations in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the region.
The so-called Palisades Fire in the Santa Monica Mountains was 0% contained on Sunday as firefighters battled wind-whipped flames mowing through rugged, steep and extremely dry terrain from the ground and the air, officials said.
Residents of at least 500 homes, many of them multimillion-dollar residences, in nearby Topanga Canyon were ordered to evacuate on Saturday evening, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Some of the homes included ranches with livestock that was being moved to an emergency animal shelter established at Pierce College about eight miles away.
The fire was first reported about 10 p.m. Friday behind a residential area and near a trail leading to Topanga State Park, officials said. The blaze was initially reported as a 15-acre brush fire that firefighters battled into Saturday to bring under control, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
But around 4 p.m. on Saturday, firefighters were confronted by a major flare-up that was fueled by winds and quickly spread, officials said. Helicopters and air-tankers were called on to drop fire retardant and water on flames in areas hard for firefighters on the ground to reach, officials said.
"Much of the area remains inaccessible. This is primarily an air-based operation with both fixed wing and rotary working together," Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson Margaret Stewart said Saturday evening.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, sent crews to help fight the wildland blaze.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. But the Los Angeles Police Department said a police helicopter crew spotted what appeared to be a person setting fires in the area on Friday night.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Air Rescue 5 said on Twitter late Saturday night that a team was inserted into the "Topanga area in search of arson suspect setting fires.”
The sheriff's department posted photos on Twitter of deputies dressed in paramilitary gear rappelling from a helicopter into a burning wooded area.
David Ortiz, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Fire Department, said the Palisades Fire is burning in an extremely parched area that has seen little rain over the last 10 years, and that dry vegetation was fueling the rapid spread of the fire.