'Out of control' fire in Southern California forces thousands to evacuate

SANTA PAULA (KRON) - Ferocious winds in Southern California whipped up an explosive wildfire that prompted evacuation orders for nearly 8,000 homes, authorities said.

The blaze broke out Monday and grew wildly to more than 40 square miles in the hours that followed, consuming vegetation that hasn't burned in decades, Ventura County Fire Sgt. Eric Buschow said.

The blaze has scorched 45,000 acres, according to Cal Fire.

At least 150 structures burned in the Ventura County fire, officials said. Videos showed mansions and modest homes in flames, along with Vista del Mar Hospital, which treats patients with mental problems or substance abuse, including veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Officials say over 1,000 firefighters are battling the blaze.


The winds were pushing it toward Santa Paula, a city of some 30,000 people about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles. Many of the evacuated homes were in that city.

However, evacuation orders were expanded to houses in Ventura, which is 12 miles (19 kilometers) southwest and has 106,000 residents.

"The fire growth is just absolutely exponential," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. "All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people, and protect structures."

Thomas Aquinas College, a school with about 350 students, has also been evacuated, with students going to their own homes or to those of faculty and staff, the college said in a statement.

Billowing clouds of black and grey smoke erupting from the fire spread quickly across the region, fouling air across the city's San Fernando Valley and drifting to the beachfront communities of Malibu and Santa Monica.

One person was killed in a car accident while trying to flee the fire, said Ventura Co. Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called the air far dirtier, and more health-threatening, than any the city sees during even its worst smog days.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a smoke advisory for Los Angeles County's 10 million residents. People are urged to stay inside and filter the air with their air conditioners.

Lorenzen says while evacuating, the car overturned. He gave no further details about the death.

Winds exceeding 40 mph and gusts over 60 mph have been reported in the area and are expected to continue, the National Weather Service said.

Firefighters from neighboring Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties were pouring in to help.

Nearly 180,000 customers in the Ventura County area were without power, Southern California Edison said on Twitter.

All schools in the Ventura Unified School District will be closed on Tuesday.

California Governor Brown has declared a State of Emergency in Ventura due to the Thomas Fire.


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