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Southern California fire forces thousands to evacuate

/ 05:32 PM December 05, 2017
Southern California fires - 4 Dec 2017

Flames from a wildfire loom up over a neighborhood in Santa Paula, California, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. Ventura County fire officials say the blaze broke out Monday east of Santa Paula, a city of 30,000 people about 97 km (60 miles) northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Powerful winds are pushing the blaze west toward the city along Highway 150, which is shut down. (Photo by MEGAN DISKIN / The Ventura County Star via AP)

SANTA PAULA, California — Ferocious winds in Southern California whipped up an explosive wildfire that forced thousands of homes to evacuate and could soon threaten a city of more than 100,000, authorities said.

The blaze broke out Monday and grew wildly to more than 3,885 hectares (15 square miles) in the hours that followed, consuming vegetation that hasn’t burned in decades, Ventura County Fire Sgt. Eric Buschow said.

The winds were pushing it toward Santa Paula, a city of some 30,000 people about 97 km (60 miles) northwest of Los Angeles. Most of the evacuated homes were in that city.

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Authorities said that the city of Ventura, which is 19 km (12 miles) southwest and has 106,000 residents, was likely to feel the effects soon.

“The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people, and protect structures.”

Thomas Aquinas College, a school with about 350 students, has also been evacuated, with students going to their own homes or to those of faculty and staff, the college said in a statement.

One person was killed in an auto accident associated with the fire, officials said. They gave no further details.

At least two structures have burned so far, sheriff’s officials said.

Winds exceeding 64 kph (40 mph) and gusts over 97 kph (60 mph) have been reported in the area and are expected to continue, the National Weather Service said.

Firefighters and aircraft from neighboring Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties were pouring in to help, though the darkness and winds forced the grounding of planes late Monday night.

Thousands of homes were without power in the area.

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