A wind-whipped wildfire swept into a wealthy Southern California neighbourhood on Wednesday night, destroying at least six homes, threatening hundreds more and scorching a building at a winery owned by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
The so-called Skirball Fire, which erupted early on Wednesday as the latest in a rash of major blazes fuelled by hot, dry Santa Ana winds, had burned about 150 acres near large estates in the Bel-Air neighbourhood of Los Angeles by nightfall and was only 5 percent contained.
Firefighters battled to save multimillion-dollar homes in the path of the flames, which also forced the closure of the San Diego (405) Freeway in both directions.
"We are expecting some extreme wind behaviour this evening," Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which uses a colour-coded wind index, issued a purple forecast, the most severe, for the first time ever, director Ken Pimlott said.
"They're going to be extreme tomorrow," Mr Pimlott said. "We need to have everybody's heads up - heads on a swivel - and pay very close attention."
Mr Murdoch's winery, Moraga Vineyards, where he lives with Jerry Hall, was evacuated on Wednesday morning as the fire bore down on the grounds, a spokeswoman said. Later a structure on the property was seen on fire as crews worked to extinguish the flames.
"We believe the winery and house are still intact," Mr Murdoch said in a written statement on Twitter. "We are monitoring the situation as closely as we can and are grateful to the efforts of all the first responders."
Mr Murdoch said his thoughts and prayers were with neighbours who "suffered heavy losses."
The fire also forced curators at the Getty Museum, frequently described as the world’s richest art collection, to shut the centre to visitors. Doors and windows were closed in a bid to protect the priceless possessions inside.
The Los Angeles hilltop museum and its surrounding institutions are by far the most valuable piece of real estate in LA County, with the value of the campus estimated at $4.2 billion last year.
But the homes of famous faces including Mr Mudroch, Harrison Ford, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady were also believed to be under threat.
The singer Lionel Richie cancelled a concert to help his ex-wife flee the area, while comedian Chelsea Handler and designer Adrienne Maloof were among celebrities tweeting that they had to evacuate.
Firefighters were called shortly after 5am on Wednesday, when a dramatic 150-acre brush fire erupted near Mulholland Drive, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The Skirball Fire in the area south of scenic Mulholland Drive and north of Sunset Boulevard was just one of several major out-of-control brush fires that have sprung up in Southern California since Monday, when Santa Ana wind conditions set in.
As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region. About 200,000 people were under evacuation orders.
In Ventura, some 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Los Angeles, more than 1,000 firefighters battled the largest, the Thomas Fire, which has already destroyed more than 150 homes and threatened thousands more.
California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, freeing state funds and resources to assist firefighters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it approved grants to help cover the cost of emergency work for the Thomas Fire and two others.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his thoughts and prayers were with everyone in the path of the wildfires.
Although no casualties have been reported, the fires have forced mass evacuations, cancellation of classes at dozens of schools and resulted in the loss of power at more than 250,000 homes in Ventura County.
In the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, the Creek Fire destroyed at least 30 homes, blackened more than 11,000 acres and forced the evacuation of 2,500 homes and a convalescent center north of Interstate 210 on Tuesday.
Three firefighters were injured and hospitalized in stable condition, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.
The Santa Ana winds, which blow westward from the California desert, were forecast to top out at 70 miles per hour (115 km per hour) on Wednesday and remain strong through the week.