State of Emergency in Ventura Co. Fire Burns Over 50,000 Acres
A state of emergency was declared in Ventura County Tuesday for a wind-driven brush fire that broke out north of Santa Paula Monday evening, prompting thousands of evacuations and destroyed dozens of structures.
The fire, dubbed the Thomas Fire, exploded to 50,500 acres — over 70 square miles — overnight, according to Ventura County fire officials. During a morning news conference, they said the fire is 0 percent contained.
Later in the day, Ventura County officials said they were still looking through the burned areas to assess the damage. Fire officials said the blaze was continuing to be swept in a westerly direction toward the ocean.
About 500 firefighters from several agencies are actively fighting the fire, according to Ventura County’s emergency information website.
“We had a rough night last night,” Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday morning, adding that the fire "quickly spread and rapidly progressed toward the City of Ventura.”
About 150 structures have been destroyed, Lorenzen said. Footage of a number of neighborhoods in Ventura shows a number of homes reduced to crumbles of rubble and debris.
One Ventura homeowner named Cindy told KTLA her family evacuated the night of the fire within just 30 minutes, first hearing about evacuations at about 10:30 p.m. and leaving by 11 to stay overnight at a friend's business down the road.
Her home in the foothills is surrounded by houses that have been torched to the ground. Hers is still standing, but when she came back around 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, she spotted some flames still burning nearby.
"We came back and we could see the hillside here is still lighting on fire," she said.
She told the fire department and they came down and tried hosing down the remaining flames. But she said "embers keeping popping" in the shrubbery nearby. "We're afraid it might catch the house on fire," she said.
About 3,000 residences remained threatened, fire officials said during a late afternoon news conference.
"I just want it to be over," Cindy said. "Our neighbors are all gone so it's upsetting."
Extremely high winds, low humidities and dry fuel are making conditions about as bad as they can be, Lorenzen said.
Fire crews will resume the air attack now the daylight has arrived, Lorenzen said.
Aerial video from Sky5 showed dozens of homes throughout multiple neighborhoods that were burning or destroyed as the sun rose Tuesday morning.
The fire prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Tuesday. “This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we'll continue to attack it with all we've got,” Brown said. “It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so.”
Additional firefighters are expected to arrive on scene Tuesday, but the intensity of the fire, which is being pushed by strong east winds, is keeping firefighters from accessing certain areas, according to Ventura County's emergency information website.
The County of Ventura, City of Santa Paula and City of Ventura have all proclaimed a local emergency.
Firefighters will be mostly concerned with structure protection in Ventura, Santa Paula and upper Ojai as winds pick up Tuesday afternoon, Lorenzen said.
“Our goal today is to get as much information out to the public as possible and to repopulate the areas as soon as it is safe,” Lorenzen said, adding that there will probably be more evacuations ordered Tuesday.
Evacuations are in place for 27,000 people, including those living in the following areas:
- Residents in Santa Paula east of Dickenson Road, north of Monte Vista Drive along Highway 150 and South of Thomas Aquinas College to the area of Say Road.
- Residents in Santa Paula west of Dickenson Road to Atmore Road, north of Foothill Road and west to Wheeler Canyon Road.
- Residents in Upper Ojai north of Highway 150 from Koenigstein Road west to the Dennison Grade, north to Reeves Road, east to McAndrew Road and north to Grand Avenue.
- Residents in Santa Paula and Ventura north of Foothill Road west to Wheeler Canyon Road, north to Canada Larga Road and east to Barlow Canyon Road.
- Residents in Ventura, CA south of Highway 33, east of Main St, north of Foothill Road and Hall Canyon Road and west of Canada Larga Road.
- Voluntary evacuations for residents in Fillmore north of 2nd Street, east of Island View, north of 4th Street, north of Wood Grove, north of Country Court and east of "A" Street.
Evacuation shelters are open at the Ventura County Fairgrounds at Miners Building. The shelter is also available for all types of animals and is located at 10 West Harbor Avenue in Ventura.
A second shelter is also open at Nordhoff High School at 1401 Maricopa Highway in Ojai.
About 20,000 Southern California Edison customers remain without power in Ventura County, according to the agency. Crews worked overnight to help restore power. Edison advises residents to be prepared to be without power "for days" because of damages caused by the fire.
The following school districts and colleges have been closed Tuesday due to the fire:
- Ventura Unified School District - All schools will be closed.
- Hueneme Elementary School District - All schools will be closed.
- Santa Paula School Districts - All schools will be closed.
- Ventura Community College as well as its Santa Paula site
- Thomas Aquinas College
- Mesa Union School District
- Briggs School District
- Mupu School District
- Oxnard Elementary School District
- All Ventura County Office of Education Schools
- Santa Clara Elementary
Additionally, the following school closures will be in effect for Wednesday:
- ACE Charter High School
- Conejo Valley Unified School District
- Fillmore Unified School District
- Hueneme Elementary School District
- Mesa Union Elementary School District
- Moorpark Unified School District
- Mupu Elementary School District
- Ocean View Elementary School District
- Ojai Unified School District
- Oxnard Elementary School District
- Oxnard Union High School District
- Pleasant Valley School District
- Rio Elementary School District
- Santa Clara Elementary School District
- Santa Paula Unified School District
- Simi Valley Unified School District
- VCOE Career Education Center sites
- VCOE-Operated School Sites and classrooms
- Ventura Unified School District
The fire broke out about 6:25 p.m. Monday above Steckel Park north of Santa Paula and burned along Highway 150.
Officials initially believed one person had died from a vehicle crash associated with the fire, however authorities stated Tuesday that a dead animal was located at the crash site and no human remains were found.
The fire broke out amid a red flag warning in the county Monday. Officials warned of extreme fire danger in the region hours before the blaze erupted.
A battalion chief was injured in a traffic collision Monday night, but was released Tuesday, Lorenzen said.
Gusts between 50 and 70 mph are possible through early Tuesday morning, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.