Evacuated Fillmore residents allowed home after wind driven wildfire in Ventura County destroys 2 homes

A wildfire in Fillmore on Monday evening, April 8, 2013.
A wildfire in Fillmore on Monday evening, April 8, 2013.
NBC Los Angeles
A wildfire in Fillmore on Monday evening, April 8, 2013.
Fallen trees at L.A. City Hall blocked Main Street and First on Monday, April 8, 2013.
Alice Walton/KPCC
A wildfire in Fillmore on Monday evening, April 8, 2013.
Waves hit the Redondo Beach Pier in Redondo Beach, Calif., Monday, April 8, 2013. Strong winds have begun raking parts of Southern California. The National Weather Service says the gusty northwest-to-north winds will become widespread across the region Monday and continue into the night.
Jae C. Hong/AP

Ventura County fire officials say residents who were forced to flee ahead of a wind-driven wildfire in Southern California can return home early Tuesday morning.

Capt. Mike Lindbery says evacuation orders for about 80 homes were lifted as crews made gains on the fire in Fillmore in rural Ventura County. The fire, which destroyed two homes on Monday, is now 80 percent contained, officials said Tuesday morning.

Lindbery says cooler overnight temperatures, higher humidity and calmer winds helped firefighters beat back the blaze and allowed them to set up a perimeter. There is no estimate on when the fire – which started when a mobile home caught fire – will be extinguished. It has burned 170 acres, with some 400 firefighters working to extinguish the flames. No word on what sparked the fire.

He says enough progress had been made that officials felt confident in letting residents return.

RELATED: Updated: Brush fire leads to evacuations; strong winds topple trees, cut power in SoCal

Shawn Decaro, whose grandmother and other relatives lived in one of the destroyed homes, said the fire moved into the city so quickly that he barely had time to help them evacuate.

"It was just enough time to get them out," Decaro told KCAL-TV. "The palm trees in the front yard were catching fire. Everything around us was catching fire."

Wind-felled trees in streets made it difficult for firefighters to get near homes to protect them.

The winds that whipped across Southern California Monday also left the streets littered with trees, knocked out power to thousands, and whipped up waves and wildfires.

The winds died down after dark Monday and were expected to weaken through the night before the spring storm moves east Tuesday.

More than 8,500 customers in the Los Angeles area at one point were without power, about 7,000 of them in the city. 

Areas of the north San Fernando Valley experienced outages as tree branches tangled with power lines in at least two areas, said Michelle Vargas, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Power has been restored to most customers Tuesday morning.

Southern California Edison reported major weather-related outages throughout the San Gabriel Valley, with the lights out for thousands of customers in Rosemead, Monterey Park and Altadena. Wind gusts topped 80 mph in some areas.

As of Tuesday morning, there were still bout 2,200 customers without electricty, with more than 1,500 of them near Hemet in Riverside County, according to the utility's website.

The wind turned small wildfires into big problems, including a blaze in Fillmore about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles that destroyed two homes and forced the evacuation of about 80 more.

Northern California was first to feel the lashing gusts, which spread to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. At least a dozen trees came down in San Francisco, police officer John Tozzini told KGO-TV, and a wide swath of outages occurred from the Bay Area through Sacramento.

The wind sent a tree smashing into a Sacramento home where four friends were playing cards, but they didn't stop the game, according to KCRA-TV. "It could've been worse," said Dodie Backus, who lives in the house.

"It's not going to stop our bridge game," said her game partner, Marilyn Baker.

The blustery system was being fueled by a cold front, which Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif., said was "just a cold, really strong upper low" pressure system.

Whitecaps flecked the Pacific Ocean along the California coast, where gale warnings and small craft advisories were posted. Recreational boaters were warned to stay in port. Wind-driven swells slapped over the tops of breakwaters and turned waves into a churning froth under piers at points such as Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach on the Los AngelesCounty coast.

The California Highway Patrol closed state Route 14 as blowing dust swept the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles, decreasing visibility for drivers. Officer Michael Farrell said motorists stopped and were hit from behind by other cars, but no major injuries were reported.

Air quality alerts were issued for northern Santa Barbara County and adjacent southern San Luis Obispo County because of blowing dust and sand.