Fire firghters set back fires to burn off dry brush to protect homes behind a hillsdie threatened by an out of control wildfire on May 2, 2013 in Newbury Park, California. Hundreds of firefighters are battling wind and dry conditions as over 6000 acres have already been burned northwest of Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
By William M. Welch, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES - A fast-growing wildfire, whipped by gusty winds and
extremely dry conditions, forced evacuation of neighborhoods and a state
university and closed a stretch of the coast highway northwest of Los
Angeles on Thursday.
More than 8,000 acres of rugged,
brush-covered terrain were burned by the fire that began during the
morning rush hour near a major highway and commuter route into Los
Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Local fire officials reported the fire was
10% contained Thursday night.
California State University-Channel
Islands, a school with nearly 5,000 students that opened in 2002, was
evacuated. The Ventura County Fire Department said it had sent 20 fire
engines to the campus to protect buildings.
Tom Kruschke, Ventura
County fire spokesman, said flames were approaching apartments on the
eastern edge of the university campus.
More than 2,000 homes were
threatened, Ventura fire officials said, but so far no occupied homes
were thought to be destroyed. There was damage to 15 homes.
said that when firefighters first responded, the blaze was confined to
one acre of brush by a major highway, U.S. 101, near Thousand Oaks and
the Camarillo Springs community, but that it quickly expanded in size
due to dry weather, high temperatures and winds gusting up to 50 miles
Dry desert winds known as Santa Ana winds were blowing
heavy smoke westward but by evening appeared to be calming.
Temperatures, which reached the upper 90s, began to drop as the sun
fell, and relative humidity, as low as 2% for much of the day, climbed
significantly, giving firefighters a break.
"This is the problem
we have: high winds, high temperatures, low humidities, plus the
(vegetation) fuels that have been suffering from the drought we've had
this winter,'' Kruschke said. "This all adds up to a perfect storm for
Cause of the fire is under investigation, he said.
officials closed a 10-mile section of the Pacific Coast Highway between
Las Posas Road in Ventura County and the Los Angeles County border
because of the advancing flames.
More than 900 firefighters were battling the blaze. Earlier, TV news
helicopter video showed recreational vehicles parked at a storage
facility on fire. Separately, a farm equipment complex went up in
flames, triggering small explosions of fire as the blaze engulfed
containers of pesticides.
Ken Pimlott, director of the state
Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said
conditions are unusually dry for this time of year and create an
environment in which fire, once triggered, spreads rapidly. He said much
of California is experiencing dry conditions not normally seen until
"The faucet just turned on with fire activity,'' he said
in an interview. "We're going into a fire season in the beginning of
May, with conditions we would normally see in mid- to late June.''
Fire moved crews through the night, some to fires in Northern
California and others into position around the Los Angeles area, he
A fire that broke out Wednesday near Banning in Riverside
County was 40% contained by Thursday, with nearly 3,000 acres burned,
Cal Fire said. Several fires were burning in the northern part of the
state, including a blaze in Tehama County that had burned 2,000 acres
and was only 10% contained, according to the department.