Thousands Flee As Fires Sweep Through Orchards And Destroy Homes
A fast-moving scrub fire is threatening orchards, oil fields and homes while displacing thousands of residents in Southern California.
The latest in a spate of conflagrations that have kept California firefighters on the go for weeks roared to life on Thursday evening near the hilly farm community of Santa Paula, about 113km northwest of Los Angeles.
As the Maria fire raced across nearly 3642 hectares of dry brush and chaparral, firefighters scrambled to protect tens of millions of dollars worth of citrus and avocado crops in harm's way, as well as nearby oil industry infrastructure.
The blaze also threatened high-voltage power lines in the vicinity, along with radio and communications towers at the top of a large hill called South Mountain, where the flames originated, Ventura County fire officials said.
"There is still cause for caution and concern. We are not out of the woods yet," county fire chief Mark Lorenzen told an evening news conference. "We still have 24 hours of critical fire weather ahead of us."
He said an estimated 1300 firefighters, many from elsewhere in California and the western United States, were assigned to the blaze.
By sunset, the fire was threatening about 2700 homes and other structures, with roughly 10,800 people under evacuation orders, Sheriff Bill Auyb told reporters.
No injuries were reported but at least two structures were destroyed, county spokeswoman Natalie Hernandez told Reuters by phone.
Oil production equipment at stake, belonging to California Resources Corp, includes wells, pipelines, storage tanks and pumping plants, Hernandez said, adding there was little vegetation immediately surrounding those facilities.
"The oil fields have good fire clearance, so that works to their favour," she said.
The fire erupted just as fierce Santa Ana desert gusts had begun to subside after howling across much of Southern California for two days. But strong, erratic winds were expected to persist through Saturday in many mountainous and foothill areas, including the Santa Paula fire zone.
Elsewhere, subsiding winds helped in gaining control of several fires in the region that had broken out earlier.
Just 48km to the east in Simi Valley, a blaze that raged to the edge of the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Wednesday was 60 percent contained on Friday while containment on a separate fire that had threatened the Getty Center art museum and thousands of homes in west Los Angeles on Monday was listed at 66 percent contained.
East of Los Angeles, the 80ha Hillside fire that burned several homes early on Thursday in the north end of San Bernardino was 70 percent contained by Friday.
The latest recurrence of seasonal Santa Ana winds coincided with extremely low relative humidity levels and a prolonged lack of rainfall that has left vegetation tinder-dry in the region.