California wildfires: Here鈥檚 what you need to know about infernos engulfing Los Angeles area

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Raging wildfires continued to rip across southern California Wednesday, forcing nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes and torching more than 20,000 hectares around the Los Angeles area.

The largest and most destructive of the fires, dubbed Thomas Fire, is a massive 220-square kilometre wildfire in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles. The blaze had nearly reached the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday night after starting about 50 kilometres inland on Monday.

The Thomas Fire continued to rage Wednesday after jumping a U.S. Highway 101, threatening over 12,000 structures.

California wildfires rage on, forcing thousands to evacuate

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California wildfires rage on, forcing thousands to evacuate

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Compilation of social media videos shows how close commuters in California are driving to the wildfires

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LA mayor asks residents to keep close watch of fire updates

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Los Angeles fire chief asks public to monitor media reports



California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency after another fire erupted late Tuesday night.

鈥淭his fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we鈥檒l continue to attack with all we鈥檝e got,鈥?the governor said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so.鈥?/p>

WATCH: Wildfires spreading in southern California

Here鈥檚 what you need to know about the infernos engulfing southern California.

Major fires

Creek Fire: As of Wednesday morning, the blaze has torched more than 4,000 hectares in the San Fernando Valley and destroyed at least 30 structures, according to Cal Fire. As of Tuesday night, the Creek Fire was zero per cent contained.

Rye Fire: As of Tuesday night, the Rye Fire was five per cent contained after charring more than 2,000 hectares in Santa Clarita.

Thomas Fire: The fire continues to burn in the foothills about 80 kilometres north of Los Angeles. The blaze is about 220-square kilometres in size and has burned over 26,000 hectares.

Bel Air brush fire: A brush fire in Los Angeles鈥?Bel Air neighbourhood erupted Wednesday morning on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, which carries heavily travelled Interstate 405 through the Santa Monica Mountains, where ridge tops are covered with expensive homes.

Santa Ana winds

California鈥檚 Santa Ana winds are intensifying the blazes, fanning the flames across the state鈥檚 dry foothills.

“We are still in the middle of an aggressive and active firefight on the ground,” said Robert Welsbie, spokesman for the Ventura Fire Department. “If the winds pick up, we will face quite a challenge.”

WATCH: Powerful aerial footage shows the devastating scope of California wildfires

Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region鈥檚 most disastrous wildfires. Air from high pressure areas blows down toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up, drying out as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons. In northern California, the same wind effect is known as Diablo winds.

Smoke visible from space

NASA鈥檚 Earth Observatory captured satellite images showing the extent of the wildfires where a steady stream of smoke is visible, streaming over the Pacific.

NASA鈥檚 Terra satellite captured the 鈥渘atural-colour鈥?image Tuesday afternoon showing the smoke plumes from the Thomas, Creek and Rye fires.

The space agency noted that 鈥渇orecasters with the Los Angeles office of the National Weather Service warned that the region is in the midst of its strongest and longest Santa Ana wind event of the year.鈥?/p>

NASA also shared an image captured from the European Space Agency鈥檚 Sentinel-2 satellite which shows the 鈥渂urn scar鈥?from the fires.

Los Angeles looks like 鈥淢ordor right now鈥?/h3>

Commuters shared videos on social media showing apocalyptic scenes of the fires engulfing the foothills in and around Los Angeles, with some comparing it to Middle Earth, a fictional, hellish setting in J.R.R. Tolkien novels.

–with files from the Associated Press

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