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Skirball Fire Forces Mandatory Evacuations, 405 Freeway Reopens; West LA Loses Power

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — The 405 Freeway has been reopened after being shut down due to a dangerous new wildfire that erupted in the tony Bel Air area of Los Angeles early Wednesday while firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California.

The Skirball Fire exploded before dawn on the steep slopes of the east side of Sepulveda Pass, which carries heavily traveled Interstate 405 through the Santa Monica Mountains where ridge tops are covered with expensive homes. At least two could be seen burning.

The 150-acre Skirball Fire started across the freeway from Skirball Center Drive, an area located near homes and across the freeway from the famous Getty Museum and the Skirball Cultural Center.

Hundreds of firefighters battled flames on the ground as aircraft dropped water and retardant near neighborhoods on the east side of the pass.

At around 8 p.m. Wednesday, a text alert went out to millions of Californians from the state's Office of Emergency, warning of continued high winds and urging recipients to "Stay alert. Listen to Authorities."

The entire Sepulveda Pass, both north and southbound lanes of the 405 Freeway, was shut down just as the morning commute was gearing up between the 101 and the 10 Freeway. The pass is one of the most heavily-trafficked in the nation and is the same stretch of freeway shut down during Carmageddon. The southbound lanes reopened just before 9 a.m., and the northbound lanes were reopened at around 1 p.m. Two northbound lanes were still closed at the Getty Center Drive.

On Wednesday afternoon, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a local State of Emergency for the Skirball Fire. He had already declared a state of emergency for Tuesday's Creek Fire burning near Sylmar.

A power outage linked to the Skirball Fire was reported around 11:30 a.m. across a swath of West Los Angeles as LADWP officials warned it could take as many as 14 hours to restore power.

Officials at UCLA said the campus was operating exclusively on internal power, with electricity out at "non-essential" buildings. Amid the fire and the power outage, afternoon and evening classes have been canceled, along with Wednesday night's game at Pauley Pavilion, and football practice. While power was fully restored to the campus at around 1:30 p.m., the cancellations were expected to stay in place.

All LAUSD schools in the San Fernando Valley will be closed for the rest of the week, the district said Wednesday afternoon. All Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District schools will be closed Wednesday due to new fire developments.

RELATED: Hundreds Of Schools Closed Due To Wildfires

Both the Getty Museum and the Skirball Cultural Center will also remain closed a second day. Skirball says visitors who purchased Noah's Ark tickets for Wednesday will be reimbursed.

The Bel Air Country Club, which is not in the path of the fire, said they will also close Wednesday out of an abundance of caution.

When firefighters told Maurice Kaboud to evacuate his home in Bel Air he decided to stay and protect his home. The 59-year-old stood in the backyard of his multimillion-dollar home as fires raged nearby.

"God willing, this will slow down so the firefighters can do their job," Kaboud said.

Another homeowner said he came back to protect his house, which he just remodeled.

"Just looking at all this commotion, I don't even know how to take it in," he said.

Hundreds of homes burned in the area during the famous Bel Air Fire of 1961. The Getty Center art complex, on the west side of the pass, employs extensive fire protection methods. Its website says it was closed to protect its collection from smoke.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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