Mark J. Terrill/AP
Firefighters from Glendale, Calif., and Pasadena, Calif., stand watch as bulldozers clear a firebreak near a wildfire burning along a hillside near homes in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Thursday, May 2, 2013. A Ventura County Fire Department spokeswoman said the blaze that broke out Thursday morning near Camarillo and Thousand Oaks, 50 miles west of Los Angeles, had spread to over 6,500 acres, forcing evacuations of nearby neighborhoods.
Update 9:13 p.m.: Ventura County fire officials say an 8,000-acre wildfire has topped a ridge and reached the Pacific Coast Highway, the Associated Press reported.
Fire Capt. Bill Nash says the fire reached the PCH — which had been closed for the second time in a day — at about 9 p.m. Thursday night.
RELATED: Camarillo Springs Fire at 10,000 acres, 10 percent containment Friday morning
Nash says the wildfire is still growing and the 10 percent containment the department had cited earlier was likely to be reduced.
By sunset firefighters had gained ground against the blaze that broke out along U.S. 101 and threatened 2,000 homes.
But a late surged forced a new series of evacuations and the PCH shutdown.
No one has been injured and no homes have been destroyed, but 25 homes were damaged.
Update 7:46 p.m.: A wildfire fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds raged along the fringes of Southern California communities on Thursday, forcing the evacuation of homes and a university while setting recreational vehicles ablaze, the Associated Press reported. KPCC's Ben Bergman reports the fire is now estimated to have consumed about 8,000 acres
The blaze erupted during morning rush hour along U.S. 101 in the Camarillo area about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It was quickly spread by the winds, which also pushed other damaging blazes across the region.
Flames quickly moved down slopes toward subdivisions, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. More than 6,500 acres — some 10 square miles — were charred, and the fire was about 10 percent contained.
#SpringsFire Update: NB PCH closed at Yerba Buena Rd. SB PCH closed at Las Posas Rd. Closure of NB may move to Mulholland.— CHP Southern Div. (@CHPsouthern) May 3, 2013
"We know the fire is bigger than that, but it's in some difficult terrain so it's hard to know," said fire spokesman Bill Nash.
A cluster of RVs in a parking lot was destroyed as flames moved close to a mobile home park.
There were no reports of homes burning, and no firefighter injuries were reported.
Fire officials said Thursday afternoon that a hazardous materials team will deal with a store of highly toxic pesticides that caught fire at a Laguna Farms property, according the Ventura County Star. Area residents were warned to stay out of the smoke as much as possible.
Evacuations orders were lifted in some neighborhoods Thursday evening, including the smoke-choked campus of California State University, Channel Islands, which has about 5,000 students. But the danger was far from over.
CI has reopened UGlen to residents only. Campus & student housing villages remain closed w/classes & activities cancelled thru Fri, May 3.— CSU Channel Islands (@CSU_CI) May 3, 2013
"The weather is mitigating a little bit, so we're taking every opportunity to improve our lines, but we're not off the hook," Nash said. "Tomorrow we expect the Santa Ana winds to quiet down, but it's still expected to be quite warm."
A more complete damage assessment will be done Friday, Nash said.
More than 925 firefighters and law enforcement officials from multiple agencies worked to protect homes around Camarillo Springs Golf Course and in a section of adjacent Thousand Oaks.
Air tankers were grounded for a time in the afternoon because of the winds, which gusted to 50 mph. Planes and helicopters dropped water and retardant until sunset.
The Santa Ana winds sent plumes of smoke and embers over the homes and strawberry fields to the south. At midday, farm sheds burst into flames in a clearing amid rows of crops.
The vegetation-withering dry winds out of the northeast caused humidity levels to plunge from 80 percent to single digits in less than an hour. Temperatures soared into the 90s in Camarillo.
The area is at the western edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, which abruptly descend to a coastal agricultural plain. It was possible the flames could burn all the way to the Pacific Ocean, about 10 miles from the start point.
For a while, the California Highway Patrol closed a 10-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway at Point Mugu. It was reopened at midafternoon around the time coastal weather stations recorded a localized return of moisture-bearing winds off the ocean, although hot Santa Anas kept blowing a few miles inland.
Mark Brewer, 52, was resting at an evacuation center Thursday afternoon after he and about 25 adults and children were evacuated from a county-run homeless shelter. Brewer could see flames coming down a hillside toward the building before he left.
"This is a part of being in Southern California, just like earthquakes," Brewer said.
Brewer, who lost his job in the mortgage industry a year and a half ago, managed to grab his laptop, some clothes and papers from the room he lives in before traveling to a Camarillo church, where evacuees were glued to televisions watching fire coverage.
About 100 miles to the east, two homes, a number of outbuildings and several vehicles were destroyed, and two other homes were damaged in a 5-acre grass fire that prompted the evacuation of an elementary school in Jurupa Valley, said Theresa Williams, a spokeswoman for CalFire.
The blazes could signal a difficult fire season ahead.
Officials with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said Wednesday in their first 2013 summer outlook that a dry winter and expected warming trend mean the potential for significant fire activity will be above normal on the West Coast, in the Southwest and portions of Idaho and Montana.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Water Resources found the water content in the snowpack was just 17 percent of normal. The snowmelt is a vital water source for the state.
Elsewhere in California, crews made progress on a 4 1/2-square-mile fire burning in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains north of Banning, Riverside County fire spokeswoman Jody Hagemann said.
The fire, which burned a home Wednesday, was 40 percent contained with only sporadic flames showing.
In Northern California, a fire in a remote area of brush and timber north of the town of Butte Meadows grew to more than 3 square miles, with 10 percent containment, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. Several fires smaller than 200 acres burned in Sonoma, Glenn and Butte counties.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Raquel Maria Dillon in Banning, and Robert Jablon and Shaya Tayefe Mohajer in Los Angeles.
Update 7 p.m.: Red Flag Warning in effect
A Red Flag Warning remains in effect for most of Southern California through Friday evening. Strong gusty winds made it difficult for firefighters Thursday.
At a press conference Thursday evening, a longtime Ventura County Fire Dept captain said Thursday's fire fires are a very ominous sign for this year's fire season, adding that he'd never seen a fire like this in May.
Meteorologist Bonnie Bartling with the National Weather Service says fire crews should get bit of a break tonight.
"We have some on-shore kicking in," Bartling told KPCC. "Winds should die down a little bit and then probably overnight or in the morning they may kick back up into off-shore."
UPDATE 6:46 p.m.: Fire at 6,500 acres; 10 percent contained
KPCC's Ben Bergman reports the Springs Fire is now at 10 percent containment. Over 800 had been ordered to evacuate, according to fire officials.
The Ventura County Fire Department has updated its Facebook page with the latest numbers. The fire has grown above 6,500 acres, though it's not clear by how much. There are now 850 firefighters battling the flames, with the help of 96 fire engines and 6 helicopters.
Officials say they hope to have an update at 7 p.m.
UPDATE 6:10 p.m.: Pet evacuation aid and shelters
Several shelters have popped up throughout the day for those who need space for their pets or other animals. A few resources:
- Camp Bow Wow in Agoura Hills is housing cats and dogs free of charge for evacuees. Pets can stay overnight. Call (818) 889 - CAMP for more information.
- The Camarillo and Simi Valley animal shelters are also accepting small animals, according to Ventura County Animal Services.
- The Agoura Animal Care Center is hosting evacuated animals. Call them at (818) 991-0071.
- Thousand Oaks Community Center Park is doing the same. Their number: (805) 381 - 2793
Those looking to move larger animals such as horses or other livestock should call the Ventura County Animal Control Agency at (805) 388 -4341. They're assisting the Ventura County Fairgrounds with housing larger animals.
KPCCs Brian Watt spoke with two area residents who convinced firefighters to escort them home in order to get their dog, "Gunner."
Kevin and Brianna Davis left their home in University Glen for work, before evacuations were ordered. Gunner seemed happy to see them return.
The couple were able to see their house as well. It's fine, though the remains of trees nearby are still smoldering. Kevin Davis said the view out of their front door is "like a moonscape."
The two will stay with family in Oxnard tonight, along with Gunner.
UPDATE 5:15 p.m.: Fixed wing aircraft back in sky
KPCC's Brian Watt reports that fixed wing aircraft are back in the sky to help with water and fire retardant. Air tankers were grounded earlier today as winds picked up and made low flights dangerous.
They'll join 6 helicopters currently making drops on the fire, according to Fire Department Spokesman Bill Thomas, who we talked to earlier today.
UPDATE 5:00 p.m.: Air quality suffers
The Ventura County Fire Department is warning residents in the area of the fire burning in Camarillo to "make all efforts to avoid the smoke" in the area.
The U.S. government's AiRNOW.gov website, which monitors the air quality index has designated the area near the fire "unhealthy for sensitive groups," and says it could be dangerous for young children, older adults, and those with lung problems.
Earlier we reported that a hazardous material response team was on its way to investigate smoke from an agricultural building caught in the flames.
UPDATE 4:29 p.m.: Evacuations for those between fire and PCH
A Ventura County Fire spokesman says the department is asking for anyone west of the fire line to make their way out of the area.
Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Thomas says officials have been asking anyone west of the fire to leave.
The fire has been creeping westward towards the highway, even though eastward winds have pushed it in multiple directions. "The overall head of the fire is making its way westward," Thomas said.
UPDATE 4:00 p.m.: CSU Channel Island to remain closed Friday
Earlier in the day, we spoke with a CSU Channel Island spokesperson about the campus-wide evacuation. Now, the university' tweeted that the campus will remain closed on Friday as well.
CI will continue to be closed this afternoon and evening classes and activities are also cancelled.Campus will remain closed Fri, May 3.— CSU Channel Islands (@CSU_CI) May 2, 2013
The school has said that students who liver there should not return to campus tonight, but should instead head to the Red Cross shelter on Mobil Ave. About 5,000 students attend the university.
Two agricultural buildings that caught fire earlier in the day raised concerns that pesticides and other harmful substances could make their way into the air. The Ventura County Star reports that the first fire occurred of Old Lewis Road near CSU Channel Island:
The Ventura County Fire Department quickly responded because of fertilizer reportedly in the Laguna Farms building. There was also fear that pesticides might be in the building.
KPCC's Brian Watt reports the Ventura County Fire has initiated a hazardous materials response to the area.
Another building, reportedly a strawberry agricultural building, caught fire earlier in the day.
UPDATE 2:48 p.m.: PCH to reopen
The California Highway Patrol says they'll be able to reopen the Pacific Coast Highway soon. Officials had closed the highway earlier, saying that the fire was threatening a stretch of the roadway.
#SpringsFire Update: PCH will be opening soon. Caltrans will remain on scene in case PCH needs to be closed again.— CHP Southern Div. (@CHPsouthern) May 2, 2013
UPDATE 2:23 p.m.: Springs Fire approaches PCH
KPCC's Brian Watt reports Ventura County fire officials are expecting the Springs Fire to reach the Pacific Coast Highway, which was shut down earlier today.
Ventura County Fire Public Information Officer Mike Lindberry said the fire reaching PCH would not be a bad thing, as it would let firefighters regroup and focus on circling the fire.
The department also says that it has now assigned 600 officers to work on the fire. Firefighters from Ventura have been joined by crews from Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Paula, Naval Base Ventura County, Cal Fire, Orange County, Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles.
UPDATE 1:47 p.m.: New fire map
NEW! A map showing the fire's "footprint" ad all evacuation areas is now posted on our website. The map will be... fb.me/1IVXqLUQj— Ventura County Fire (@VCFD) May 2, 2013
We've added a screenshot of the map — which is interactive on the fire department's website — in the slideshow above, showing the footprint of the fire as of 2 p.m.
The California Highway Patrol says the Camarillo Springs fire has shut down a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway in both directions from Yerba Buena and Las Posas.
#SpringsFire Update: PCH is now closed between Las Posas Rd. and Yerba Buena Rd. Use 101 freeway -- All 101 lanes now open.— CHP Southern Div. (@CHPsouthern) May 2, 2013
UPDATE 12:30 p.m.: More resources; fire spreads
The Ventura County Fire Department says they now have 500 firefighters dispatched to help control the Carmarillo Springs fire's spread. The fire has now reached 6500 acres, the department says.
UPDATE - the fire that started near Camarillo Springs this morning has now grown to 6,500 acres. The fixed wing... fb.me/21Zkkv1tX— Ventura County Fire (@VCFD) May 2, 2013
UPDATE 11:20 a.m.: Evacuation orders broaden
Firefighters have broadened the evacuations ordered for the area south of Potrero Road to the Pacific Coast Highway. Evacuation orders include California State University, Channel Islands, where students were notified by text, email and by the campus-wide speaker system to evacuate at around 10 am.
"A little after ten, a message went out to everybody that the campus was closing and they need to evacuate," Vice President for Technology and Communication Michael Berman told KPCC.
"There's a lot of smoke. I'm standing in the police department building and I can see flames about half a mile a way, maybe closer," he said. Air quality in the area is extremely poor, Berman said.
See below for the location of Red Cross shelters that have opened and for the latest alerts from the Ventura County Fire Department on Twitter.
Firefighters also report that there are recreational vehicles on fire in the Camarillo Springs area.
Authorities have ordered evacuations of a neighborhood and a university along the 101 Freeway about 50 miles from Los Angeles in Ventura County where a 2,000 acre wildfire is raging close to subdivisions.
The blaze on the fringes of Camarillo and Thousand Oaks broke out Thursday morning and was quickly spread by gusty Santa Ana winds. Evacuation orders include California State University, Channel Islands.
The Red Cross has opened the following shelters for evacuees:
- Thousand Oaks Community Park, 2525 N. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks
- Calvary Community Chapel, 380 Mobil Avenue in Camarillo
About 100 miles to the east, four residences have burned in a grass fire that has prompted the evacuation of an elementary school in Jurupa Valley.
Other fires are burning around the state with various degrees of containment.
View Wildfires across Southern California, May 2nd in a larger map
UPDATE 8:29 a.m.: The fire has grown to 100 acres with 0 percent containment, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
The fire started Thursday morning along the 101 Freeway in the Camarillo area. Firefighters are working in steep, rocky terrain to stop the spread of the fire.
PREVIOUSLY: A wildfire is burning in dry brush on a ridge next to a freeway in Ventura County.
The Ventura County Fire Department says the 30-acre blaze broke out Thursday morning along U.S. 101 in the Camarillo area. Flames are burning uphill towards Camarillo Springs Golf Course.
More than 200 firefighters with help from water-dropping helicopters are working to protect comes in the community of Camarillo Springs.
Heavy winds are sending up huge plumes of smoke.
Two lanes of the southbound freeway at the Conejo Grade are blocked by fire trucks.
On Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for the Los Angeles and Ventura mountain areas, Santa Clarita, San Fernando and Ventura valley areas. The warning is extended to Friday evening.