OAK PARK — A brush fire burned about 126 acres in Agoura Hills and Oak Park on Saturday, and power outages affected more than 5,000 homes in Topanga Canyon as record-setting temperatures and strong Santa Ana winds wreaked havoc on the western edge of Los Angeles County.
Although the fire came within 30 feet of some homes, fire officials said none were damaged and no one was injured. The fire started in Ventura County about 3:40 p.m. behind houses along Symphony Lane and Rhapsody Drive and was contained by shortly after 7 p.m., authorities said.
The National Weather Service reported record-breaking highs throughout the San Fernando Valley, with temperatures of 99 degrees in Burbank and 96 degrees in Chatsworth.
At 100 degrees, Van Nuys was the hottest place in the Valley. Nearby, Oxnard was the hottest spot in the nation, with a high of 104 degrees--a distinction held Friday by Chatsworth when the temperature hit a record-breaking 97 degrees.
Stuart Seto, a meteorologist with the weather service, said hot, arid air was coming in from Nevada and beating back the sea breeze, which usually cools the Valley. He said the high temperatures would probably continue through Monday.
"This is a basic Santa Ana event," said Wes Etheredge, a meteorologist with the WeatherData forecasting service, adding that the heat wave has nothing to do with El Nino. "The air is particularly dry because of the lack of rainfall during the past few months."
Northeasterly winds blowing through passes and canyons at 20 to 30 mph were also blamed for a massive power outage in Topanga Canyon. Southern California Edison spokeswoman Clara Pots-Fellow said that winds blew down a 15-kilowatt power line at 3:20 p.m. and that late Saturday night several hundred customers were still without electricity.
Given the scalding winds and tinder-dry conditions, the Agoura Hills blaze could have been worse than it was.
"This was a very fast-moving fire," said Sandi Wells, a spokeswoman for the Ventura County Fire Department. "It was a hard fire to fight at first. Every time we thought we had a handle on it, the winds would shift and fan it out to someplace else."
Along with the winds, thick brush and steep terrain accelerated the fire, which was fought by more than 200 firefighters from Ventura and Los Angeles counties and the U.S. Forest Service, she said.
In addition to the 26 engines, five helicopters and numerous ground crews, firefighters were aided by two fixed-wing tankers that flew out of Goleta and dumped thousands of gallons of sticky pink fire retardant on the wall of flames.
Nezy Belcher, 58, of Rainbow View Drive in Agoura Hills, had to move her belated Halloween party indoors due to the raining retardant and the smoke drifting onto her property. At one point, she said, the fire was only about 50 feet from her luxury home--causing some of her 150 guests to wonder if they should have come to the party.
"Our fortuneteller worked for five hours to set up her booth" and then had to remove it because it was a fire hazard, said Belcher, who wore a crown and was dressed as a Persian queen. "The whole hill was red."
Todd Cardona, a 35-year-old sales engineer who lives in Oak Park, was one of the first to see the fire.
"I saw smoke and called 911," he said. "The flames were just roaring up the hills. I could feel the temperature go from, like, 80 to 110 in a matter of 15 minutes."
Ira and Wendy Gastwirt watched as the fire burned to within 60 feet of their home.
"It was like an explosion," said Ira Gastwirt as he looked at the glowing orange embers near the rear of his home.
He added that as soon as the smoke was sighted, neighbors raced into their yards to spray water on trees and brush in an effort to protect their homes.
"It was something to see all the neighbors and kids helping out like that," Wendy Gastwirt said.
"All the wind had to do was change directions and things would have been a whole lot worse," said Ira Gastwirt.
Correspondent Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.