Friday, December 08, 2017

Bill Steinkraus, Equestrian Who Made Olympic History, Dies at 92

Bill Steinkraus, one of America’s most celebrated horse-show riders and the country’s first to win an Olympic individual gold medal in any equestrian discipline, died on Nov. 29 at his home in the Noroton section of Darien, Conn. He was 92.

His death was announced on Thursday by the United States Equestrian Team Foundation.
Widely considered one of the greatest riders in the history of equestrian sports, Steinkraus made all six United States Olympic teams from 1952 through 1972, missing only the 1964 Games in Tokyo when his horse pulled up lame at the last moment.

He won his record-making Olympic individual gold medal, in show jumping, in Mexico City in 1968. He also won team silver medals in Rome in 1960 and in Munich in 1972, and a team bronze in 1952 at Helsinki. His American team finished fifth in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia.

His gold medal came aboard Snowbound, a strong-willed 9-year-old gelding. “I like to think of him as sort of a George Bernard Shaw horse,” Steinkraus told The New York Times. “He has his own opinion about everything.”

William Steinkraus - Individual Gold Medalist Mexico City Olympics 1968 Video by Bernie Traurig

Through his feats in the Olympics and in other international events, Steinkraus, a Yale graduate and an accomplished violinist, drew admirers from around the world.

William Clark Steinkraus was born on Oct. 12, 1925, in Cleveland and grew up in Westport, Conn. He started riding at 9 in a summer camp in Canada and rode in his first National Horse Show at 12, in a junior class.

A student of the renowned trainers Gordon Wright and Morton W. Smith, he went on to win junior titles as a teenager before enrolling at Yale.

Steinkraus interrupted his studies for Army service during World War II. He rode in Burma (now Myanmar) with the Army’s last mounted regiment and helped reopen the Burma Road, an important supply route for Allied forces. After the war, he returned to Yale and graduated.

The Army’s cavalry supplied all of the American equestrian riders who competed internationally until the regiment was disbanded in the early postwar years. The United States Equestrian Team was formed in 1950, and Steinkraus was named to the team in 1951.

Mr. Steinkraus in an undated photograph. “In this sport,” he said, “the horse is more the athlete. He’s the body and you’re the brain.” Credit Uset Archive

He rode for the team for 22 years, 17 as captain, before retiring from international competition in 1972. He was elected team president in 1973, chairman in 1983 and chairman emeritus in 1992.

In 1960 Steinkraus married Helen Ziegler, a granddaughter of the 19th-century industrialist William Ziegler, who established a sprawling estate called Great Island in Noroton, connected to the community by a land bridge. She and Steinkraus and their family lived there for many years. (The estate was in the news in 2016 when it was put on the market for $175 million.)

Ms. Steinkraus, a former cancer research assistant at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York, was a sportswoman, known as Sis, who raced sailboats, skied, hunted game and took up dressage, becoming an accomplished rider in competition and later an international judge. She died in 2012.

When not riding, Steinkraus was an editor in book publishing in New York and wrote several books on the sport, notably “Reflections on Riding and Jumping: Winning Techniques for Serious Riders,” published by Doubleday in 1991. He also wrote for the authoritative magazine Chronicle of the Horse.

Besides playing the violin, Steinkraus was an expert on old books and antique furniture. After he retired from competition, he was a television commentator for four Olympics and then an Olympic judge.

He also served as chairman of the International Equestrian Federation’s World Cup jumping committee for 10 years and as a director of the American Horse Shows Association for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, in Lexington, Ky., in 1987.

When he retired from international competition, commercial sponsorship and prize money was just starting to come in. “We don’t know whether, 50 years hence, we’ll say that was the beginning of the end, or that was the beginning of the beginning,” he said.

One contemporary rider (and later a trainer and judge), George H. Morris, called him “the man who epitomized style on horseback.” Another, Hugh Wiley, said: “He would think through a riding problem and always come up with an intelligent answer. After riding, he usually played his fiddle, read The Wall Street Journal or went to the opera.”

For all his Olympic medals, Steinkraus was quick to credit his horses, including Hollandia in Helsinki, Main Spring in Munich and Riviera Wonder in Rome, in addition to Snowbound in Mexico City. Success in competition, he insisted, depended on the relationship between rider and mount.

“A good horseman must be a good psychologist,” he told Life magazine in 1968. “Horses are young, childish individuals. When you train them, they respond to the environment you create. You are the parent, manager and educator. You can be tender or brutal. But the goal is to develop the horse’s confidence in you to the point he’d think he could clear a building if you headed him for it.”

Indeed, in the equation of rider and horse, Steinkraus placed greater importance on the latter.

“In this sport,” he said, “the horse is more the athlete. He’s the body and you’re the brain. When you need a new body, you get one.”

Bitcoin’s Price Has Soared. What Comes Next?

The average cost of a Bitcoin crossed $17,000 on Thursday, though on some individual exchanges where it is traded, the value was even greater.
The average cost of a Bitcoin crossed $17,000 on Thursday, though on some individual exchanges where it is traded, the value was even greater.

SAN FRANCISCO — Bitcoin has been in a bull market like few the world has ever seen.
At the beginning of the year, the price of a Bitcoin was below $1,000. It hit $5,000 in October, then doubled by late November. And on Thursday, less than two weeks later, the price of a single Bitcoin rose above $20,000 on some exchanges, according to Coinmarketcap.

The latest price spike has been credited to signs that Wall Street companies plan on bringing their financial heft into the market.

At the current cost, the value of all Bitcoin in circulation is about $300 billion. To get a sense of how big that is, all the shares of Goldman Sachs are worth about $90 billion.

The gains have been driven by several other factors — perhaps the most important being the irrational mentality that can take over in speculative bubbles.

Currently, the average price of one Bitcoin is about $, according to, a news and data site.

Bitcoin used to be all about libertarians and black-market trade. Are those still driving the price?

The fringe communities that drove Bitcoin in its early years are playing a much less important role in the current rally.

Many investors have said the most important factor driving the current enthusiasm is the entry of hedge funds and other institutional investors.

The path for large investors has been smoothed by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board Options Exchange, which have been racing to roll out Bitcoin futures contracts. Most banks are already signed up with these exchanges and consequently can immediately begin trading the contracts. The options exchange has said it plans to start trading on Sunday.

It is still unclear how the arrival of Bitcoin futures will influence the demand for the digital tokens.
With a futures contract, banks can bet on the price of Bitcoin without holding the underlying Bitcoins. This is expected to bring many new players into the market who don’t want to deal with the complications of holding Bitcoins.

But the futures contract will also allow investors to short Bitcoin, or bet on the price’s going down, which has been hard to do until now. Some analysts think this could put downward pressure on the price. Other market participants have worried that Bitcoin futures could spread the risks of Bitcoin into the rest of the financial system.

People still use Bitcoin and other virtual currencies to make ransom payments and buy illegal goods online, including synthetic opioids. But that activity has been on the wane since the authorities shut down some of the largest online black markets this year.
Individual investors have been just as active as large investors.
Nowhere has the phenomenon of ordinary people buying virtual currencies been more visible than in South Korea, where several exchanges have storefronts to help new customers. This is all the more remarkable because just a year ago, Koreans showed almost no interest in these markets.
Small Japanese investors have also been investing in Bitcoin. They have been encouraged by laws passed this year that essentially legalized Bitcoin and allowed Bitcoin exchanges to get regulatory licenses.
In the United States, most small-time investors have gone to the San Francisco company Coinbase, which provides a Bitcoin brokerage service, similar to Charles Schwab, as well as an exchange for larger investors. Coinbase now has more account holders than Schwab, and it has struggled to keep up with the growth.

China used to be the most active country for Bitcoin trading and mining, but the authorities there have cracked down this year.

What are the dangers of getting into this market?

Many of the largest exchanges, including in South Korea, are essentially unregulated. The lack of oversight means that no one is checking that the exchanges are properly securing their customers’ money or that large players are not able to manipulate the price. One of the largest exchanges in the world, Bitfinex, has been hacked numerous times and provides little transparency about where it is keeping its money.

Even regulated exchanges, like Coinbase in the United States, have not been battle tested like larger financial institutions, and their operations have gone down at key moments.

Once people buy Bitcoin or other virtual currencies, they are often targeted by hackers who have become experts at penetrating Bitcoin accounts. Bitcoin “wallets” are vulnerable to new kinds of attacks that are not a problem for ordinary financial accounts.

Most important, in contrast to money in a bank account, when a Bitcoin is gone there is essentially no way to get it back and no insurance covering its loss.

Are more people using Bitcoin to pay for things?

When Bitcoin was released in 2009, it was described as a new kind of electronic cash.

Recently, though, many programmers working on Bitcoin have said the system in its current form is not a particularly good way to pay for things. They argue that it is best designed to serve as a sort of scarce commodity, like digital gold, allowing people to keep their money outside the control of governments and companies.

What role are the other virtual currencies playing in this frenzy?

Earlier this year, bullish sentiment was focused on Ethereum, a virtual currency network that is more adaptable than Bitcoin. The price of Ether, the virtual currency on the Ethereum network, has continued to rise in recent months, but not as fast as Bitcoin.

Many investors were also putting their money into custom virtual currencies released by entrepreneurs in so-called initial coin offerings. These new virtual currencies have generally been designed to serve as the internal payment mechanisms on new software the entrepreneurs are building.

This fall, though, regulators have signaled that they are planning to crack down on coin offerings.

Where did virtual currencies come from, and how do they work?

The Bitcoin software was released in early 2009 by a mysterious creator who went by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. The search is still on for the true identity of Satoshi.

The software released by Satoshi set out the basic rules for Bitcoin and the computer network on which it lives. Unlike other forms of money, which are controlled by governments and financial institutions, Bitcoin operates on a decentralized network of computers that no one institution controls. For more details, see our Bitcoin explainer.

F.B.I. Warned Hope Hicks About Emails From Russian Operatives

WASHINGTON — F.B.I. officials warned one of President Trump’s top advisers, Hope Hicks, earlier this year about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the events.

The Russian outreach efforts show that, even after American intelligence agencies publicly accused Moscow of trying to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election, Russian operatives were undaunted in their efforts to establish contacts with Mr. Trump’s advisers.

There is no evidence that Ms. Hicks did anything improper. According to former officials, American intelligence and law enforcement agencies became alarmed by introductory emails that Ms. Hicks received from Russian government addresses in the weeks after Mr. Trump’s election.

After he took office, senior F.B.I. counterintelligence agents met with Ms. Hicks in the White House Situation Room at least twice, gave her the names of the Russians who had contacted her, and said that they were not who they claimed to be. The F.B.I. was concerned that the emails to Ms. Hicks may have been part of a Russian intelligence operation, and they urged Ms. Hicks to be cautious.

The meetings with Ms. Hicks, what the F.B.I. calls a “defensive briefing,” went beyond the standard security advice that senior White House officials routinely receive upon taking office. Defensive briefings are intended to warn government officials about specific concerns or risks. A lawyer for Ms. Hicks declined to comment.
The contents of the emails to Ms. Hicks are unclear, as are the identities of the Russians who sent them. The people who described the briefing and the emails spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to openly discuss intelligence matters. The F.B.I. declined to comment.

On Thursday and Friday, investigators working for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, interviewed Ms. Hicks as part of his investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s advisers assisted the Russian campaign. It is not clear whether the Russian efforts to contact Ms. Hicks were discussed during that interview.

In early January, American intelligence agencies formally accused Russian intelligence agencies of trying to tip the presidential election toward Mr. Trump, who was reluctant to accept that conclusion. Against that backdrop, senior F.B.I. officials went to the White House in the early days of the Trump administration and warned all senior aides to be cautious about espionage threats, especially from Russia and China.

Then the F.B.I., in coordination with the National Security Council, separately briefed Ms. Hicks and at least one other person close to the president. In a meeting in February, Ms. Hicks was told generally about the Russian intelligence efforts and pressed them for more information. A senior F.B.I. agent met again with Ms. Hicks, and provided her several names of Russians who had contacted her and whom the F.B.I. was concerned about.


Hope Hicks: Seen, but Not Heard

Members of the Trump administration haven't always followed a traditional path. Hope Hicks fits right in, a communications director that hardly communicates publicly.
By CHRIS CIRILLO on Publish Date December 8, 2017. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Associated Press. Watch in Times Video »

Ms. Hicks informed Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, about the meetings.
The F.B.I. meetings with Ms. Hicks occurred at the time of a brewing controversy involving Michael T. Flynn, then the national security adviser, and his calls during the transition with the Russian ambassador at the time. Mr. Flynn lied to the F.B.I. about those discussions, and intelligence officials worried that his lies made him susceptible to Russian blackmail.

The Russian emails to Ms. Hicks occurred six months after the F.B.I. had begun investigating possible connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. American intelligence officials were alarmed about repeated contacts during the campaign between Mr. Trump’s staff and outside advisers and Russians, and feared that Russia was trying to influence the Trump campaign.

In some ways, the Russian outreach to Ms. Hicks undercuts the idea that the Russian government had established deep ties to the Trump campaign before the election. If it had, Russian officials might have found a better entrèe to the White House than unprompted emails to Ms. Hicks.

But after a yearlong campaign in which the Russian government frequently succeeded in making contact with people around Mr. Trump, the overtures to Ms. Hicks also demonstrate that Russian officials seemed intent on gaining access to Mr. Trump’s inner circle by any means they could.
They had already succeeded in connecting with George Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser who has since pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with Russians. Mr. Papadopoulos met with and exchanged numerous emails with Russian intermediaries who Mr. Mueller’s team believes were trying to gain access to the campaign through him.


Southern California Fires Live Updates: ‘We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet’

VENTURA, Calif. — The quick-moving fires that have forced thousands of Californians to evacuate their homes continued to sweep across the southern part of the state on Friday, destroying buildings and taxing fire crews that have been working for days.

Evacuees in San Diego County, where a 4,100-acre fire remained completely uncontained, told of quickly encroaching flames that left at least six people injured, 25 racehorses dead and 85 structures ruined.

“I got the ‘Get the hell out of here’ evacuation,” said Paul Anderson, who fled his home in Bonsall on Thursday. “About four cop cars rolling around the neighborhood. ‘Get out!’ ”

The fire Mr. Anderson fled was among several burning Friday in Southern California, including a flare-up near Alpine in Cleveland National Forest and a blaze in Ventura County that has burned 132,000 acres and destroyed more than 400 buildings. Officials said the Ventura fire was threatening buildings in Carpinteria, Ojai, Santa Paula and Ventura.

“This fire just keeps on going on us,” said Capt. Israel Pinzon, a spokesman for the state firefighting agency.

Here’s the latest:
• President Trump on Friday declared an emergency in California and ordered additional federal aid. His declaration, which Gov. Jerry Brown had requested, allows federal agencies to coordinate the relief efforts.
• A fire near Murrieta, in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, has burned about 300 acres. Seven buildings were destroyed, officials said, and the fire was 60 percent contained.
• In all, the fires have killed at least 54 horses across the state, according to the authorities.
• Los Angeles fire crews extinguished a grass fire in El Sereno on Friday afternoon in just over an hour, containing it to six acres.
• Chief Ken Pimlott of Cal Fire said 8,700 firefighters were working on several fronts on Friday.
• More than 212,000 people have been evacuated at some point this week, Chief Pimlott said. Here’s what to do when you’re preparing to evacuate.
Eric M. Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, said late Thursday that he was not aware of any deaths connected to the Los Angeles fires.
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Where the Fires Are Spreading in Southern California

Wildfires burned near and in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California, forcing thousands to evacuate.
OPEN Graphic

A new fire adds to worries in San Diego County.

Early estimates of the fire in the Cleveland National Forest ranged from eight to 15 acres. “We’re throwing a lot of equipment at this fire right now, both from the air and from the ground,” said Capt. Kendal Bortisser, a spokesman for the state firefighting agency.

Firefighting crews in San Diego County were also contending with the larger fire that broke out Thursday near Bonsall.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Dianne Jacob, the chairwoman of San Diego County’s board of supervisors. “We need to stay vigilant and be prepared.”

Ms. Jacob said mobile homes belonging to older people were among the buildings destroyed, and state officials said around 25 racehorses died on Thursday as flames engulfed the barns at a training center that houses about 500 horses.

The California Horse Racing Board said in a statement that workers “risked their lives in efforts to free the horses,” and that many of the animals had been ushered to safer land or taken to shelter at a nearby racetrack. Other horses remained unaccounted for on Friday.

The county sheriff estimated that 10,000 people had evacuated. Mary Gallagher, 81, a retired department administrator, evacuated not once but twice on Thursday — first to Fallbrook High School, a quick drive from her house, and then to a shelter in Escondido, about 30 miles south.
She said she got “maybe an hour or two” of sleep on Thursday night, blaming the uncomfortable cot and worries about her home.

“It was those winds,” she said, “the winds were awful.”

‘They are surrounded by fire’ in Ojai.

The 132,000-acre fire in Ventura County challenged weary firefighters and threatened 15,000 buildings on Friday as the flames spread into Los Padres National Forest and stretched to the Santa Barbara County border.

Residents in parts of both counties were ordered to evacuate, more than 90 buildings were destroyed and the Holiday Spirit Parade scheduled for Saturday in Carpinteria was postponed.

The Ventura County Fire Department said on Twitter that crews were working “long hours in extremely steep, dry, rugged terrain full of drought-stressed fuels.”

The fire devoured hillsides around Ojai, a small inland city dotted with villas and known for its music festival. Fire crews worked through the night in the forested hills of the Ojai Valley amid gusty winds.

“They are surrounded by fire,” Capt. Pinzon said of Ojai.

Health officials said that the fire had created hazardous air quality levels in the Ojai area that were “off the charts,” and suggested that residents stay inside with the windows closed.


California’s Fires, by the Numbers

Just one of the fires raging in Southern California has already burned an area larger than Detroit, fueled by winds nearing hurricane strength. Here’s a look at the numbers behind the state’s worst fire season ever.
By BEN LAFFIN on Publish Date December 7, 2017. Photo by Hilary Swift for The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

In Bel-Air, a chance to return home.

By Thursday night, several local and state officials said they were encouraged by improving conditions in the city and county of Los Angeles. And as a result, officials announced that some Angelenos would be allowed to return home starting Thursday evening.

The focus in the Bel-Air hills had turned to digging out burning embers and cooling down any hot spots that could easily ignite. It was easy to see how quickly the neighborhood could go up in flames: Sprawling estates on narrow streets were surrounded by towering elms and bitterly dry pine needles. Blackened embers of tree trunks had tumbled down — one had hit a firefighter and burned him around the neck.

Many of the iron gates that guard the mansions had been broken open by firefighters who needed to get to the slopes burning below. Some driveways were covered with splatters of pink from the fire retardant that had been dumped from aircraft.

Capt. Brian Ferreira, a firefighter from Oakland, had helped mop up on a hillside near a winery owned by the media mogul Rupert Murdoch. While small patches of the hillside and the wine storage had suffered some damage, most of the winery seemed fine, he said.

“Rupert will be glad to hear that, he paid a lot of money for that property,” said Hugh Siegman, 71, who lives just above the winery.

Mr. Siegman and his wife returned to their undamaged home Thursday morning, before the evacuation had been lifted. “I would rather be here and be vigilant myself and get these guys to help if they need it,” he said.

Traffic reporters take on a new role in Los Angeles.

As flames have ravaged Los Angeles, traffic reporters have emerged as lifelines through the chaos, stars in an urban, multi-fire battle that could compete with a disaster film plotline from a Hollywood studio. Their profession, sidelined in the age of apps and built-in navigation, is boosted by the thing technology still does not have — human judgment.

Reporters have spent days navigating people home and keeping them out of harm’s way, with guidance beyond the turn-by-turn. Where a road might appear open on an electronic map, it might in reality be under a miasma of smoke too painful for breathing. A side street may seem passable, but just out of sight, a fire could be barreling down.

Read more about the guidance they’re providing here.

California Fires Enter the Heart of Los Angeles

For the latest news on the wildfires, read our Thursday live updates here.

LOS ANGELES — With thick plumes of smoke, towering flames and mass evacuations, a fast-moving wildfire struck one of America’s major cities on Wednesday.

As fires raged out of control across Southern California, a new blaze erupted in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, near iconic landmarks like the U.C.L.A. campus and the Getty Museum, home to old masters paintings and ancient Roman statues.

It burned up to the edges of the 405 freeway, the nation’s busiest highway carrying about 400,000 vehicles a day, where the northbound lanes were closed for much of the day and commuters drove through a shower of ash with flames rising in the horizon.

Forty miles to the northwest, the largest of several fires underway had consumed 90,000 acres by Wednesday night and at least 150 structures — probably hundreds more, fire officials said — and threatened 12,000 others in the city of Ventura and neighboring communities, and was 5 percent contained. Other major fires were burning in the northern San Fernando Valley and the rugged region north of Los Angeles.
Late Wednesday night, officials sent an emergency alert to all of Los Angeles County warning of “extreme fire danger.”

The fires compounded the suffering of what has already been one of the state’s worst fire seasons on record, including the blazes that ravaged the wine country north of San Francisco in October. The new outbreaks have forced nearly 200,000 people in the Los Angeles and Ventura areas to evacuate, officials said, and extremely high winds are likely to make matters worse on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Fire season usually peaks in October in California, but officials suggested that with climate change, more fires are occurring later in the year.

“These are days that break your heart,” Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said at a news conference. “These are also days that show the resilience of our city.”

It was a day in which smoke from the fires ringing the region could be spotted from the Santa Monica Pier, the streets of downtown and the beaches of Santa Catalina Island. And in a city where residents live outdoors, many stayed home to avoid the foul air.

By Wednesday evening, the fire in Bel-Air consumed at least 475 acres and a handful of structures, small figures compared with some of the other blazes. But in such a densely populated area, the prospect of warm, dry Santa Ana winds whipping the flames into other neighborhoods had many residents of Los Angeles’ west side preparing for possible evacuation. Officials ordered 700 homes in Bel-Air evacuated.

A gray-brown pall, tinted orange in places, hung across a region that is home to millions of people, and the regional air quality agency warned that the air posed a health hazard in places.

At least four houses burned in hilly Bel-Air, where sprawling villas costing tens of millions of dollars are home to celebrities and other wealthy Angelenos.
Winds could still reach 80 miles per hour, said Chief Ken Pimlott of Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency. “These will be winds where there will be no ability to fight fires,” he said. Wind blowing from the northeast raised fears that the fire could jump the freeway, into the area around the Brentwood neighborhood and where the sprawling Getty sits on a hilltop overlooking the 405.

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Major developments:
• The fires in total destroyed more than 300 homes, businesses and other buildings.
• Fire and smoke forced the closing of the 101 freeway — the main coastal route north from Los Angeles. More than 1,700 firefighters were working on the blaze there.
• Hundreds of schools were ordered closed for the rest of the week because of the thick blanket of smoke filling the skies.
• At the University of California at Los Angeles, officials said an electrical failure in the area left the campus without power. The student health center was distributing masks to students to help protect them from the smoke wafting over the campus.
• Mr. Garcetti declared a local state of emergency because of the Skirball Fire, as the blaze in Bel-Air is called. Gov. Jerry Brown issued a similar call for the Ventura fire on Tuesday. The declarations asked for rapid aid from state and federal officials.

‘We stay calm, do what they tell us, and pray.’

Continue reading the main story

A home burned in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles on Wednesday. Credit Kyle Grillot/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Sam Grosslight, 24, of Bel-Air, was woken up by her mother, Carolyn, early Wednesday morning telling her to grab her phone and her computer. The family piled as much as they could, from Ms. Grosslight’s newly purchased makeup to her father’s ashes, into her Jeep.

“People say you’ll know what you need when you get to the moment, but really you have no idea and you just start grabbing stuff and you’re all over the place,” Ms. Grosslight said.
She stood at a highway overpass in her dad’s old red sweatshirt — Hell Freezes Over, it read — as plumes of smoke churned above her neighborhood.
“It’s the weirdest feeling to not know when you can go back home again. That’s supposed to be the one place you can always go, and right now it’s just not,” she said.
In 1961, a fire ripped through Bel-Air and destroyed almost 500 homes, including many belonging to celebrities, and prompted the adoption of new fire codes, including rules about clearing brush around buildings.

“We’ve all been through this before,” said Abe Hagigat, 61, on Wednesday, as he packed up his car outside his home in Bel-Air and watered his roof. “We stay calm, do what they tell us, and pray.”
His wife and daughter had filled the car with photographs. “That’s really all that really matters,” he said.

Strong winds are normal, but it’s not usually this dry.

The strong winds that are driving the fires are a normal feature of late fall and winter in Southern California. What is different this year — and what is making the fires particularly large and destructive — is the amount of bone-dry vegetation that is ready to burn.

“What’s unusual is the fact that fuels are so dry,” said Thomas Rolinski, a senior meteorologist with the United States Forest Service. “Normally by this time of year we would have had enough rainfall to where this wouldn’t be an issue.”


Where the Fires Are Spreading in Southern California

Wildfires burned near and in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California, forcing thousands to evacuate.
OPEN Graphic

The situation in Southern California is similar to what occurred in Northern California in October, when high, hot winds fueled fires that killed 40 people and destroyed thousands of homes. But while Northern California has since had a lot of rain that has essentially eliminated the fire threat, the south has remained dry.

“We haven’t had any meaningful precipitation since March,” Mr. Rolinski said.

Helping to spread the fires are the Santa Ana winds, which occur as cold, high-pressure air over Nevada and Utah descend into Southern California, accelerating and warming. Typically, Santa Ana conditions occur on roughly one-third of the days in December and January, Mr. Rolinski said.
When the high winds last for just a day or two, Mr. Rolinski said, the region can often get by without a major fire starting and spreading. “But it’s hard to get through six days of this,” he said.

The fire nears an iconic museum.

To the west of the 405 freeway, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles was closed to the public for a second day on Wednesday because of the wildfires, museum officials said.

No artwork has been evacuated from the museum or its grounds, said Ron Hartwig, the museum’s vice president of communications, who added that the museum was designed to protect against natural disasters like wildfires.

“The safest place for the art collection is right here in the Getty,” Mr. Hartwig said. He said he could see heavy smoke outside the museum coming from the fire area, and he was concerned about the homes across the freeway. “It is just very sad to see the fire across the street and realize so many of our neighbors are suffering,” he said.

Jeff Hyland, the president of Hilton & Hyland in Beverly Hills and a 40-year veteran of the real estate market in Los Angeles, said he had a clear vantage point of the fire from his home on a hilltop in the Trousdale Estates neighborhood, and was watching helicopters drop water onto several properties in Bel-Air.

The Bel-Air homes engulfed by the fires, he said, are mostly older homes on smaller, hillside lots. Some of the houses were built more than 30 years ago and likely would not have fire-resistant ceramic-shingle roofs that are up to modern fire codes, he said. Still, even the smallest vacant lot in the area would fetch over $1 million.

The evacuation zone includes some extremely pricey areas, however, including one of Mr. Hyland’s listings currently on the market for $17 million.

A family loses their home in Ventura.

Continue reading the main story

From left, brothers Austin, Noah, Paul, and Steve Sezzi sort through their mother’s home in Ventura on Wednesday. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times
After years of his family renting in the area where they long dreamed of owning a home, Bryan Gonzales was finally able to buy his wife and five children a house in Ventura in April. “My grandfather was born here,” he said.
His house — a cream-colored, single-story building with blue trim — had three bedrooms and an addition where Mr. Gonzales kept his surfboards.

By Wednesday, it was clear that the home had been completely destroyed, burned to the foundation, even though the houses on either side of the property remained standing. Mr. Gonzales described a smoke-filled sky with solitary chimneys rising among the ashes. “Everything is gone. There’s nothing left there,” he said.

“There are about eight other houses along the street, though, that are also total losses,” he said. “We were able to grab important stuff, like pictures and things, but even at the time you’re thinking: ‘This isn’t real. It’s not actually happening.’”

His parents live in a mobile home park in Casitas Springs, a small community northwest of Ventura. They recently purchased the mobile home next to them. “So, we’ll have a place to stay when this all settles down,” Mr. Gonzales said. “We’re all together and all O.K. We will rebuild. I plan to die in Ventura. I’m not leaving.”

Correction: December 6, 2017

An earlier version of this article described incorrectly the relative location of a large fire threatening the city of Ventura, Calif. The fire is 40 miles to the northwest of another fire threatening Los Angeles, not to the northeast. An earlier version also misstated the number of children in the Gonzales family. There are five children, not seven.


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