Wind-driven fires raze California suburbs anew
VENTURA, California — For the second time in two months, wind-driven fires tore through California communities in the middle of the night, leaving rows of homes and a psychiatric hospital in ruins and sending tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives on Tuesday.
There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries in the blazes burning in Southern California’s Ventura County, on the edge of Los Angeles and in inland San Bernardino County.
The Ventura wildfire broke out Monday and grew wildly to nearly 207 square kilometers (80 square miles). It was fanned by dry Santa Ana winds clocked at well over 96 kph (60 mph) that grounded firefighting helicopters and planes.
A smaller fire erupted on the northern edge of Los Angeles, threatening the Sylmar and Lakeview Terrace neighborhoods, where residents scrambled to get out as heavy smoke billowed over the city, creating a health hazard for millions of people.
Just eight weeks ago, wildfires that broke out in Northern California and its wine country killed 44 people and destroyed 8,900 homes as well as other buildings.
Fires are not typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region in the past six months.
Like the deadly October fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, the blazes are in areas more suburban than rural.
“That means that there are going to be far greater numbers that are going to be evacuated, as we’re seeing now. And counties and cities are going to have to expand their budgets,” said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College who has written extensively about wildfires.
“These fires are not just fast and furious, but they’re really expensive to fight,” Miller added.
The early official count was that at least 150 structures burned in the Ventura County fire, but the number is expected to certainly go higher.
Mansions and modest homes alike were in flames. The Hawaiian Village Apartments burned to the ground. The Vista del Mar Hospital, which treats patients with mental problems or substance abuse, including veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome, smoldered after burning overnight.
Aerial footage showed dozens of homes in one neighborhood burned to the ground and a large subdivision in jeopardy as the flames spit out embers that could spark new blazes.
More than 27,000 people were evacuated while a firefighter suffered bumps and bruises in a vehicle accident in Ventura County.
The fire erupted near Santa Paula, a city of some 30,000 people about 97 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Los Angeles known for its citrus and avocado orchards as well as farm fields along the Santa Clara River.
People were ordered to evacuate as flames got within about 90 meters (100 yards), but some to stand their ground to protect their property, where they have chickens and goats.
They hosed down their roof and hit hotspots before winds pushed the fire over a hill toward neighboring Ventura, a city of 106,000 where more people were ordered to clear out.
“It was just exponential, huge growth because the winds, 50 mile an hour out of the east, were just pushing it and growing it very, very large, very quickly,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen.
Thomas Aquinas College, with about 350 students, was evacuated.
The fire on the northern edge of Los Angeles was estimated at more than 15 square kilometers (6 square miles) and had burned homes, though no immediate damage estimates were released. About 2,500 homes were ordered evacuated.
Southern California’s gusty Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland West toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.
Nearly 180,000 customers in the Ventura County lost power, and schools in the district were closed. Some firefighting efforts were hampered when pumping stations lost power. /kga
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