Fire Rages in Ventura County

September 24, 2009

Another fire is raging in Southern California, stoked by the notoriously hot and dry Santa Ana winds, as the state moves into its prime fire season.

The fire is in the north of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and north of the Station fire in the Angeles National Forest, in Ventura County. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had consumed 1,600 acres and was 40 percent contained.

Airtankers _ including a DC-10 jumbo jet and big helitankers _ have bombarded flames with retardant and water.

Fire crews also have been working on the ground to battle the blaze, and two minor injuries to firefighters have been reported.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar has declared a state of emergency for the county, freeing up state resources to battle the more than 13-square-mile fire, which was one of several burning in Southern California Tuesday.

Fire officials have not officially determined a cause of the blaze, but they have said they suspect it started by spontaneous combustion in a manure pile on an area ranch.

While an unknown number of evacuations were lifted late Tuesday in two neighborhoods, numerous homes remained threatened and evacuation orders remain in effect, said county fire spokesman Bill Nash. At least one small building was seen ablaze.

“Don’t wait for an evacuation order if you feel like you’re in danger,” said Fire Capt. Ron Oatman.

The fire is threatening oil production fields in the area and five huge power lines that supply Ventura and Santa Barbara.

City spokesman Hugh Riley said the water district authorized avocado growers to turn on irrigation sprinklers in their orchards. He noted Tuesday that the fire was following the path of a blaze several years ago.

“That was a big one and fortunately it burned a lot of the fuel that could feed this one,” he said.

Some smaller wildfires broke out Tuesday as weather turned the region into a tinder box.

A blaze that ignited in Riverside County, 40 miles east of Los Angeles, burned 160 acres. It was about 60 percent contained and no homes had been lost.

Winds also caused some increased fire activity on ridgetops in the San Gabriels, where a gigantic arson-caused wildfire continues to smolder a month after it began. But Carol Underhills, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, says a haze was caused by ash whipped up by the Santa Anas.

The fire burned across 160,557 acres _ 251 square miles _ of Angeles National Forest after it was ignited Aug. 26. At its peak it destroyed 89 homes and caused two firefighter deaths.

The fire remained 94 percent surrounded Tuesday, and fire commanders again pushed back the projected date for full containment, this time from Tuesday evening to Thursday morning, due to the weather.

The weather service also issued “red flag” warnings of fire weather conditions in other parts of California due to a combination of low humidity, high temperatures and wind.

Those areas included the hills east of San Francisco Bay and mountains to the north, the northern Sierra and northern Sacramento Valley and a large swath of the state farther north.

A 300-acre wildfire burning in a heavily wooded area of Sonoma County near Geyserville was expected to be contained Wednesday morning.

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