Ventura, California — Santa Ana winds pushed a wildfire from rural hills into parts of the Southern California city of Ventura overnight with a violent speed, destroying several buildings and forcing thousands of people to evacuate.
The fire forced sheriff’s deputies to warn residents to evacuate at night. About 150 buildings had been destroyed by Tuesday morning.
Firefighters try to put out a blaze which destroys homes early Tuesday in Ventura.
At least 10 homes and numerous palm trees were burning in one neighborhood, sending thick smoke and dangerous embers into the air.
What Had Happened So Far
- The brush fire, called the Thomas Fire, was first reported at Steckel Park, just north of Santa Paula, around 6:30 p.m. local time, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
- About 27,000 people were under mandatory evacuation in Ventura County as fire officials warned the powerful winds could push flames further into the city of Ventura.
- “The fire is still out of control and structures are threatened throughout the fire area,” the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said on a local emergency preparedness website. “Due to the intensity of the fire, crews are having trouble making access, but there are multiple reports of structures on fire.”
- A dead animal was found at the site of a rollover car crash near the evacuation zone Monday night, Ventura fire officials said. Initially, authorities reported that a person had died there, but they later clarified that no human body had been found.
Neighborhoods are Without Power
The fire also burned down power lines, at one point leaving more than 260,000 homes and businesses without power in Ventura County and neighboring Santa Barbara County.
By early Tuesday, power had been restored to all but 20,000 customers — but more outages were possible because flames were burning along power transmission paths.
As the fire spread, the nearby hills glowed a fiery orange as residents in Santa Paula threw a few of their belongings into cars to evacuate, according to a video footage.
Heavy winds and darkness are the reason that authorities couldn’t immediately use air tankers and helicopters to help battle the wildfire.
“We’ll have them as soon as the light is out, and they can safely fly,” Ventura County Fire chief Mark Lorenzen said.
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About 1,000 firefighters are battling the blaze or heading to the area to help Tuesday morning.
Ventura County fire engineer Richard Macklin estimated that one stretch of flames extended 5 to 6 miles Tuesday morning. He said he’d never seen a fire spread as fast at such a distance in his 30-year career.
Officials shut State Route 150, between Ojai and Santa Paula, due to the fires. All students at the Thomas Aquinas College, a private Catholic college in Santa Paula, were evacuated Monday night, the school said on Twitter. The college and the Santa Paula and Ventura school districts announced their closures Tuesday.
Two evacuation centers were opened for residents who had to leave their homes and evacuate.
Hours into the disaster early Tuesday, California’s Office of Emergency Services secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fight the fire.