Wed, 17 Oct 2018
Los Angeles

Southern California wildfire expands, thousands evacuated

By Sheetal Sukhija, Los Angeles News
06 Dec 2017, 10:18 GMT+10

CALIFORNIA, U.S. - A raging wildfire in Southern California grew out of control, pushed by howling winds in Santa Ana overnight, leaving over 150 buildings including homes destroyed and forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

The winds in Santa Ana pushed the wildfire from rural hills into parts of the Southern California city of Ventura. 

On Tuesday morning, authorities noted that the fire had burned about 45,000 acres in 13 hours, and some homes were said to be ablaze in the northern part of Ventura, which houses over 100,000 people along the Pacific coast.

With the fire continuing to spread, the sheriff's deputies were forced to knock on doors to warn residents to evacuate in the dark. 

According to the Ventura County Fire Department, 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. 

Authorities said that by early Tuesday, the fire was burning at a rate of nearly an acre per second and they said that at that speed, it would have covered Manhattan's Central Park in about 15 minutes.

Fire officials warned that about 27,000 people were under mandatory evacuation in Ventura County and the powerful winds could push flames further into the city of Ventura.

County fire engineer Richard Macklin said that the 82-bed mental health facility, Vista del Mar Hospital located in northwestern Ventura, was fully evacuated two hours before flames burned it.

On Tuesday morning, Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency for Ventura County, freeing state resources such as the National Guard to support response efforts.

Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said that a fire battalion chief was injured in a traffic collision during the fires on Monday night, and was released from a hospital after being treated for "bumps and bruises.” 

On the local emergency preparedness website, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said, “The fire is still out of control and structures continue to be threatened throughout the fire area. Due to the intensity of the fire, crews are having trouble making access, but there are multiple reports of structures on fire."

Officials said on Tuesday that within a few hours, the fire jumped to thousands of acres as Santa Ana winds, blowing as fast as 40 to 60 mph, carried its embers. 

They noted that the winds made up the season's “strongest and longest” Santa Ana event.

Officials also warned that while the winds could make the situation even worse on Tuesday, with gusts of 50 to 60 mph possible, a lull was possible on Wednesday even though winds could again pick up again on Wednesday night and Thursday.

Susan Cox, a spokeswoman for Southern California Edison said that the fire also burned down power lines, and at one point it left more than 260,000 homes and businesses without power in Ventura County and neighboring Santa Barbara County.

Cox added that by early Tuesday, power had been restored to all but 20,000 customers - even though more outages were possible because flames were burning along power transmission paths.

About 1,000 firefighters were said to be battling the blaze, a county fire engineer Macklin said.

Macklin estimated that one stretch of flames extended 5 to 6 miles Tuesday morning.

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