SANTA PAULA, Calif. (KABC) — A fast-moving brush fire broke out near Santa Paula Thursday evening, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes and destroying at least one structure.
The fire, dubbed the Maria Fire, was reported around 6:30 p.m. on top of South Mountain in Ventura County, an area surrounded by cellphone transmission towers. Crews launched an aggressive fight on the ground and air against the blaze, which had burned 5,000 acres by 11 p.m., fueled by winds up to 35 miles per hour, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
The blaze started high on the mountain ridge, meaning it took time for the flames to creep down and “provided us time to get into the communities and start our evacuations,” said John McNeil with the fire department during a Thursday night press conference.
However, the fire’s origin point also meant that fire crews had difficulty accessing the edges of the blaze so that crews could establish containment lines, McNeil added. Given heavy fuels and grass, he added that the fire’s footprint could expand to consume 12,000 acres at the most.
The community of Somis in Ventura County was threatened as the flames rapidly spread to the west, officials said. A break in wind conditions by midday Friday was expected to better fire fighting conditions.
During the active battle against the blaze from the air, authorities confirmed that someone was flying a drone over the fire.
“This created quite a dangerous situation. It’s not only illegal but it hampers our fire fighting efforts,” said Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub.
Cautionary evacuations were underway for areas near Balcom Canyon and 12th Street, fire officials said, but additional mandatory evacuations were also issued. See a full evacuation map here.
Firefighters say there were about 7,500 people and 1,800 structures within the mandatory evacuation area. At least one structure was seen fully consumed by flames near La Loma Avenue and East Center Road.
An evacuation center was set up at the Camarillo Community Center at 1605 Burnley Street.
Animal evacuation centers were also established. The Humane Society of Ventura County at 402 Bryant St., Ojai was accepting animals of all sizes. The Santa Barbara Earl Warren Fairgrounds was accepting large animals.
The Maria Fire is the latest of multiple fires that have ignited across Southern California in recent days. Here’s every fire burning in the region today.
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