New California wildfire explodes to 8,000 acres

Oct. 31 (UPI) — California’s busy fire season grew worse when a new blaze exploded to more than 8,000 acres in a matter of hours south of Santa Paula and was still spreading, prompting officials to issue mandatory evacuations for 7,500 residents.

The blaze, dubbed the Maria Fire, started at 6:14 p.m. Thursday on South Mountain and quickly spread to 750 acres in less than two hours by strong, east winds, the Ventura County Fire Department said.

By early Friday, it had exploded to 8,300 acres with zero percent contained, according to Ventura County.

More than 400 firefighters were battling the wind-driven brush fire from the air and ground on the upper ridge of the mountain, it said in an update, adding that “additional firefighters have been requested.”

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said in an evening press conference that 1,800 structures were under threat of the fire and about 100 deputy sheriffs, with the help of volunteers, were aiding in the evacuations.

He said aerial efforts were impeded by someone using a drone to photograph the fire, causing a dangerous situation.

With the blaze occurring high on the mountain’s ridge, the fire department was given the time needed to conduct evacuations, but the location is causing difficulty to hem in its perimeter, said Ventura Fire Assistant Chief John McNeil.

“We got access issues getting to the actual edges of the fire,” he said. “So, at this time our efforts are evacuations, getting close into the structures, providing structure defense where we can. Second to that will be perimeter control.”

He said “this is not Thomas fire,” referring to the state’s massive 2017 fire, and that Maria Fire will eventually “run out of fuel.”

“We’re looking at 12,000 acres at the biggest footprint on this,” he said.

Fire Cheif Mark Lorenzen said while the fire may look close, they are working to keep it to the north of State Route 118.

“That is our goal and intention is to keep it there,” he said. “We are actively engaged in structural protection as well as protecting the agricultural assets there with avocado and citrus orchards that have significant values.”

Evacuation orders were ordered for an area within South Mountain Road to the north, Highway 118 to the south, Balcom Canyon to the east and Los Angeles Avenue to the west, the department said.

Ventura County Office of Education announced that most of its public schools and several charter schools would be closed on Friday.

The fired erupted as Ventura County was already busy with Easy Fire near Los Angeles and crews were battling at least 10 wind-stoked blazes statewide, including the Hillside Fire that started earlier Thursday on the northern end of San Bernardino.

Officials said and multiple homes near the Waterman Canyon area caught fire because of Hillside. San Bernardino is about 50 miles due east of Los Angeles.

Mandatory evacuations were in order for 490 homes, affecting some 1,300 people.

As of 6 p.m., firefighters had the Hillside Fire 50 percent contained, the San Bernardino County Fire District said. Emergency officials transported one firefighter to a local hospital for smoke inhalation, the department said.

A total of six houses have been destroyed and 18 others have been damaged, San Bernando County Fire said.

#HillsideFire (Update): Evacuations are to be lifted tonight at 6pm for residents only. #SBCoFD OFM Damage Assessment Team has done their damage assessment. 140 homes assessed, 6 destroyed, 18 damaged. Edison is aware of power outages in Evac area. No ETA on restoration of power. pic.twitter.com/NgwT3iQaBw— SB County Fire (@SBCOUNTYFIRE) October 31, 2019

“Crews will remain on-scene throughout the night reinforcing containment lines [with] wind shifts expected,” the department said on Twitter.

Officials were investigating the cause of the fire, which originated in an area with no power lines.

Closer to Los Angeles, firefighters fought Wednesday to protect the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., from the Easy Fire, which approached the historical property from a nearby hillside. The fire burned nearly 1,800 acres and was 60 percent contained by Thursday night, Cal Fire said.

Officials said a change in wind speed and direction helped save the library from approaching flames — as well as a herd of goats.

“We actually worked with the Ventura County Fire Department in May and they bring out hundreds of goats to our property,” Melissa Giller, a spokeswoman for the Reagan library, said. “The goats eat all of the brush around the entire property, creating a fire perimeter.”

Water-carrying helicopters also made repeated water drops behind the library, which opened in 1991 and is the resting place for the former president, who died in 2004, as well as former first lady Nancy Reagan, who died in 2016.

The Getty Fire, which began Tuesday on the west side of downtown Los Angeles, has burned nearly 750 acres and was 39 percent contained, the Los Angeles City Fire Department said Thursday.

“The Getty Fire Incident Command continues to monitor the affected fire areas, as well as those areas remaining closed due to critical infrastructure concerns or safety hazards,” the LAFD said.

“The Los Angeles Police Department will have a strong presence in the repopulated and evacuated areas for the next several days to ensure the protection of residents and their property.”

The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County burned more than 77,758 acres and was 65 percent contained as of Thursday morning. The Tick Fire in Los Angeles County grew to 4,615 acres but was 100 percent under control.

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