Crews seek more success saving homes in Calif fire - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Crews seek more success saving homes in Calif fire

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CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — It seemed that each time wind-driven embers sparked new blazes or a wall of fire leaped a Southern California hillside and came charging toward hundreds of homes, an army of firefighters was right there to either douse or direct the flames away from humanity.

As a result, the fire that broke out Thursday quickly moved through the Camarillo Springs area without destroying a single home.

Firefighters were hoping for the same success on Friday, as the fire raged out of control miles away near the coast.

Fifteen structures in the area 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles sustained some damage, and other homes in a wooded area were being threatened Friday by the blaze that had roared across 28 square miles. Some 900 firefighters using engines, aircraft, bulldozers and other equipment had it just 20 percent contained.

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The good fortune of the Camarillo Springs area wasn't the result of luck or clairvoyance by firefighters. It came after years of planning and knowing that sooner or later just such a conflagration was going to strike.

"When developers want to go into an area that is wild-land, it's going to present a unique fire problem," Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tom Kruschke said. "And you have to be prepared for that."

Camarillo Springs, which was nothing more than rugged backcountry when homes began to go up there 30 years ago, was well prepared.

Its homes were built with sprinkler systems and fireproof exteriors from the roofs to the foundations. Residents are required to clear brush and other combustible materials to within 100 feet of the dwellings, and developers had to make sure the cul-de-sacs that fill the area's canyons were built wide enough to accommodate the emergency vehicles seen on TV racing in to battle the flames.

"All of our rooftops are concrete tile and all of the exteriors are stucco," said Neal Blaney, a board member of The Springs Homeowners Association and a 15-year resident. "There's no wood, so there's almost no place for a flying ember to land and ignite something."

When the blaze broke out, Blaney said, volunteer emergency officers in the neighborhood gave the first alert to residents. As a result, when the flames got close, residents were ready to get out of the way of firefighters.

Residents in the area are also particularly vigilant about clearing brush from the hillsides next to their yards, Kruschke said. Normally, firefighters remind people in such areas to do that every June, but in Camarillo Springs people do it every few months. The work paid off this week.

The type of blaze that hit the area usually doesn't strike Southern California wild-land until September or October, after the summer has dried out hillside vegetation. But the state has seen a severe drought during the past year, with the water content of California's snowpack only 17 percent of normal.

That created late-summer conditions by May, and when hot Santa Ana winds and high temperatures arrived this week, the spring flames that firefighters routinely knock down once or twice a year quickly roared up a hillside — out of control.

"It's just the beginning of May and we already have a 10,000-plus acre fire that's burning intensely," Kruschke said. "That doesn't bode well for the rest of the season."

On Friday, the huge wildfire stormed back through canyons toward inland neighborhoods when winds reversed direction. A new evacuation was ordered in a Thousand Oaks neighborhood along a two-mile stretch of road overlooking smoke-filled coastal canyons.

However, cooler, calmer ocean air was beginning to move ashore, raising humidity and even bringing a chance of rain by Sunday night, which should aid firefighters.

California State University, Channel Islands, remained closed, however.

After jumping Pacific Coast Highway 20 miles north of Malibu, the fire burned for a time on a beach shooting range at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station.

The blaze is one of more than 680 wildfires in the state so far this year — about 200 more than average.

On Friday, some 3,000 firefighters were battling a handful of blazes scattered around the state.

In Riverside County, a 4 1/2-square-mile fire that destroyed a home burned for a third day in mountains north of Banning. It was 65 percent contained.

Fifty-five miles away from Camarillo, in the hills above Glendale, a blaze broke out Friday afternoon, prompting the closure of several roads as it quickly charred 75 acres.

In Tehama County in Northern California, the size of a wildfire north of Butte Meadows was revised down from more than 15 square miles to 10 square miles, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

The fire, which was 10 percent contained, was burning in a remote area and wasn't posing an imminent threat to any structures.

A fire in Butte County that covered 55 acres was expected to be contained this weekend.

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Associated Press writers Shaya Tayefe Mohajer and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

THIS IS A STORY UPDATE. For an earlier AP story, read below.

BUTTE MEADOWS, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California wildfire carving a path to the sea grew to more than 15 square miles and crews prepared Friday for another bad day of gusting winds and searing weather.

"We're going to be at Mother Nature's mercy," Ventura County fire spokesman Tom Kruschke said.

The wind-whipped fire erupted Thursday in the Camarillo area, damaging 15 homes and a cluster of recreational vehicles in a parking lot. About 2,000 Ventura County homes remained threatened and evacuations remained in force although the fire line edged southwards toward Malibu. It was about 20 miles from the coastal enclave at daybreak.

The blaze was 10 percent contained but the work of more than 900 firefighters and deputies was just beginning, fire officials said.

The weather forecast called for parching single-digit humidity, highs in the 90s in some fire areas and morning winds of 20 to 30 mph with gusts to 45 mph — slightly down from a day earlier.

There's still a chance of "explosive fire spread" before winds begin tapering off in the afternoon and cooler weather begins to kick in, said Curt Kaplan, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Oxnard.

While winds calmed overnight, the fire that had burned about 12 1/2 square miles by Thursday night had increased to around 15 1/2 square miles by dawn.

"It has grown throughout the night," Kruschke said. "The fire has been coming down canyons all along Pacific Coast Highway and that's where we've been concentrating a lot of our effort."

Air tankers were expected to resume water and fire retardant drops after daybreak, which showed molten lines of flames along the oceanside ridges and a vast, black charred landscape behind. Few homes were in the immediate area.

Although the flames were generally heading seaward, the threat to homes behind its edge remained from hotspots and wind-driven embers, Kruschke said.

"The fire can jump up at any time and any place," he said. "There's that hot bed of coals out there covering thousands of acres."

The fire was driven by gusty Santa Ana winds that usually run from fall into March then are replaced by foggy mornings as an onshore flow of cool air comes in, Kaplan said.

"This is a very, very strange weather pattern for this time of year," he said. Instead of the onshore flow heading eastwards from the coast, cold storms in Colorado and further east have been pushing westward, and that air heats up and dries out as it roll downs through the California mountains, he said.

The pattern was expected to begin breaking up Friday afternoon, rapidly cooling over the weekend and there even could be a chance of rain in the fire area on Sunday, the meteorologist said.

The fire erupted during morning rush hour along U.S. 101 in the Camarillo area about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and winds pushed it down slopes toward subdivisions, soon forcing evacuations of residents in Camarillo and Thousand Oaks.

Marie Turner, 45, was among the displaced at an evacuation center in Thousand Oaks as flames skirted the home her family moved into from Texas less than a year ago. She said in a phone interview she had given little thought to wildfires and worried about an entirely different kind of California threat.

"I'd always heard about earthquakes, it was a big fear of mine before we moved here," said Turner.

She said she was frightened but didn't regret the move.

"I'm very positive about being here, and we're trying to make the most of it," said Turner.

The smoke-choked campus of California State University, Channel Islands was evacuated, and classes were canceled through Friday. The school has about 5,000 students, though only a fraction live on campus.

About 100 miles to the east in Riverside County, two homes were destroyed, two more were damaged and 11 vehicles were destroyed in a 12-acre fire Thursday that fire officials suspect was started by a discarded cigarette.

Elsewhere in the county, a 4 1/2-square-mile blaze that destroyed a home burned for a third day in mountains north of Banning. It was 65 percent contained.

In Northern California's Tehama County, a wildfire north of Butte Meadows grew overnight although an estimate of its size was revised down from more than 15 square miles to 10 square miles, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

The fire was 10 percent contained. It's burning in a remote area and is not posing an imminent threat to any structures.

Elsewhere in the region, crews expected to fully contain a 125-acre blaze in Sonoma County and a 200-acre fire in Glenn County on Friday.

Containment of a 55-acre fire in Butte County was expected this weekend.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Raquel Maria Dillon in Banning, and Robert Jablon and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

 

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