6,500 acres burned, Santa Ana winds ‘winning’

Published: Friday, May 3, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES – As Ventura County firefighters faced off with flames in Camarillo, northwest of Los Angeles, another important battle was taking place miles away along the coast.

The Santa Ana winds that were pushing the Springs fire southwest toward the coast are meeting head-on with an ocean breeze blowing inland. And so far, Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service said, “the Santa Anas are winning.”

A fire that started about 6:30 a.m. PDT Thursday quickly grew into an out-of-control blaze that burned more than 6,500 acres in less than 6 hours. Hundreds of firefighters from across Southern California were battling the blaze, which at one point threatened hundreds of homes in Newbury Park and Camarillo.

But the fire, which was initially wedged into a swath of tree- and brush-filled mountains south of the 101 Freeway, roared deeper into the wild toward Point Mugu State Park on Thursday afternoon.

Ventura County fire spokesman Bill Nash said the fire was headed toward Sycamore Canyon as it crawled toward the coast.

“If we start to get that onshore breeze, it can slow down the fire and allow us to gain some ground on it,” Nash said. “Worst-case scenario: it pushes it further inland into areas that didn’t burn before.”

Nash said the blaze has mostly burned through the newly grown vegetation that sprouts annually with routine fires and was moving deeper into the mountains, where plants and trees have gone unscathed for decades.

Firefighters’ best chance at gaining an advantage appeared to be overnight, when the temperatures drop and the winds die down, Seto said.

Four fixed-winged air tankers that were grounded Thursday afternoon because of wind and heat were expected to begin making drops in the evening.

A roughly 9-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway was closed Thursday as the blaze moved toward the coast. The closure between Yerba Buena and Las Posas was lifted about 3 p.m., the California Highway Patrol said.

At one point, the Ventura County Fire Department sent 20 trucks to California State University, Channel Islands, where officials said flames charred the hills on the east part of campus.

By 1 p.m., dark smoke still billowed outside the window of Nancy Covarrubias Gill’s office, but the university spokeswoman said it looked a lot better than it did an hour earlier.

“There’s a ton of smoke but no more flames that we can see,” she said.

The wind had died down a bit since earlier in the afternoon, when flames got close to a vacant building in the campus’ north quad, she said, adding that it wasn’t a structure fire because the buildings in the area are “solid concrete with tile roofs.”

“It could have been debris, it could have been a dumpster near the building,” she said. “But it wasn’t a structure.”

Although the university canceled classes for Thursday and Friday, Covarrubias Gill and about 30 others stuck around to “keep an eye on things.”

“We’re sitting tight,” she said. “To make sure embers don’t jump.”

Tom Mobley stared out at the billowing smoke as he stood above his company’s celery and bell pepper crops in Camarillo.

The 42-year-old food safety supervisor said Nunes Vegetables, which has about 1,000 acres off Las Posas Road, sent their day laborers home earlier in the day because there was too much smoke. In a nearby field, though, a couple dozen day laborers from a different company were still at work.

Mobley said it looked like the fire was threatening citrus and avocado trees belonging to other growers in the area. He watched as the wind blew black smoke west toward the Pacific — and away from his company’s fields.

“Hopefully it keeps going thataway,” Mobley said.

The hot temperatures, wind and dry conditions were posing a fire threat throughout the region. Los Angeles County firefighters responded to a blaze that broke out in the Calabasas area about 3 p.m.

Though winds were a relatively light 10 mph, more than 100 firefighters aided by four water-dropping helicopters responded to the scene near Meadow Creek Lane and Lost Hills Road, county fire officials said.

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©2013 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): CALIF-WILDFIRE

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Topics: g000065558,g000362661,g000066164

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