A fast-moving, wind-fueled brush fire exploded to at least 8,000 acres Monday night in the foothills near Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula and triggered mandatory evacuations of hundreds of homes, officials said.
Strong winds were pushing the blaze in a southwest direction toward the cities of Santa Paula and Ventura, leading to new evacuations of homes north of Foothill Road in Ventura and reports of power outages.
Shortly after 10 p.m., Richard Macklin, a Ventura County fire engineer, was on the phone with a news outlet when his fire station in Santa Paula went dark.
“We have power now,” Macklin said about 10:20 p.m. “I got lights, I don’t know how they’re providing it.”
Other residents in Ventura and Santa Paula reported outages, though it was not immediately clear how widespread the blackouts were.
Authorities were also evacuating homes east of Dickenson Road, north of Monte Vista Drive along Highway 150 and south of the college. As of 9 p.m., it was unclear if any residences were damaged by the uncontained blaze. The fire was burning on both sides of the highway.
“We’re really just trying to catch it around the edges and just pinch it off as quickly as we possibly can,” said Ventura County firefighter Jason Hodge, adding that crews are dealing with 25 to 50 mph winds. “That’s what’s driving this fire. So it’s a challenge, but everybody’s out there working hard and will be through the night.”
Since shortly before 7 p.m., firefighters were in place to protect homes along Highway 150 just north of Santa Paula, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Stan Ziegler. Within an hour, the fire grew from 50 to 500 acres.
Evacuation centers were opened at Nordhoff High School at 1401 Maricopa Highway in Ojai and at the Ventura County Fairgrounds at 10 W. Harbor Blvd. in Ventura.
Four helicopters were going to begin making water drops after crews determined that it was safe to fly as the blaze grew rapidly.
About 9:30 p.m., two helicopters were forced to land at Santa Paula Airport due to 50-mph winds. “Waiting for winds to slow down so we can get back in the fight,” officials said on Twitter.
“It’s always difficult and somewhat dangerous to fly at night, so depending on different conditions and the geographic challenges is how they evaluate whether or not they can operate at night,” Hodge said.
Ventura County Fire staffed an extra 100 or so firefighters in anticipation of strong winds that triggered a red flag warning in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Weather officials said those regions could see wind gusts of 50 to 70 mph Monday night into Tuesday.
The blaze was reported about 6:25 p.m.
“This is exactly what we have prepared for,” Ziegler said. “This is not a surprise by any means.”
Source: LA Times