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Photos show devastation, power of wildfires spreading through California

LOS ANGELES — Interstate 405 near Los Angeles’ posh Bel-Air area reopened Wednesday afternoon after a brush fire prompted evacuations.

It was one in a series of blazes that have scorched more than 83,000 acres, burned scores of buildings and forced tens of thousands of people to flee over three days.

Police shut down nine miles of I-405 — one of the nation’s busiest freeways — in both directions for much of the day after flames swept down the foothills toward the highway, near Sepulveda Pass and the Getty Center arts complex, as stunned motorists drove by before dawn.

UCLA, a few miles south of the fire, said it believed its campus was safe but canceled afternoon and evening classes, citing difficult traffic conditions. It also canceled its men’s basketball home gave against Montana.

“It was dark until I saw a gigantic ball of orange,” driver Tiffany Lynette Anderson wrote on Instagram, where she posted a picture of fire raging beside the highway before it was closed. “On absolute fire. I’m grateful to be safe — truly grateful.”

“I could feel the heat on my windows,” said Joy Newcomb, who also drove by the fire.

By 9 a.m., the southbound lanes of that stretch — from the Ventura Freeway to I-10 — were reopened, but the northbound lanes remained closed.

Predawn videos of the 150-acre blaze, dubbed the Skirball Fire because of its proximity to the Skirball Cultural Center, showed bright flames glowing ominously close to drivers.

The fire was on the other side of the highway from the Skirball museum and the Getty museum.

A video posted to Instagram shows a Los Angeles County Fire helicopter maneuvering to make a water drop.

Los Angeles authorities ordered parts of the Bel-Air district near the fire to leave, but those are just a fraction of the evacuations that have been ordered in Southern California since Monday night.

Wind-whipped wildfires are burning extremely dry terrain along the northern and western edges of Los Angeles, and, more extensively, Ventura County, northwest of the city, for a third day.

Heavy Santa Ana winds blamed for spreading the infernos still threaten to multiply the destruction.

The winds are expected to pick up Wednesday evening and Thursday, perhaps with gusts of 50 mph, posing a risk of further spread.

Smoke collected even in areas that weren’t burning. Health officials warned people in the heavily populated San Fernando Valley and other parts of the northern Los Angeles area to limit their time outdoors.

The fires spewed so much smoke they were captured in a NASA image from space.

The National Weather Service tweeted an image that showed the smoke forecast from the fires.