California wildfires: Firefighters battle to save homes

May 02, 2013|By Christine Mai-Duc

The battle with a 6,500-acre brush fire in Ventura County continued into the evening as homeowners waited to hear if their homes were saved.

James Wurts, A 37-year-old database administrator,  his face covered with a mask, watched as firefighters defended his Newbury Park neighborhood from flames.

The flames seemed to leap up from the hillside and creep down quickly, still aided by slight winds. Firefighters at the scene said they had about 30 crew members on the hill setting and monitoring the controlled burn.

The same had been done to the vegetation on  a cul-de-sac on Via Nicola.

 "We are removing the fuel," said one firefighter, holding a half-dozen flares as he walked behind a resident's house to get to the gate that let him into the brush.

Many residents said they were not so fearful because the direction of the winds had been shifting the flames west away from their homes, and most of the houses in the "five fingers" cul-se-sac  jutting into the hills were constructed with concrete and ceramic tile roofs, not wood.

Wurts, like many residents, praised the firefighters from as far as Alhambra, Monrovia and Arcadia.

"Those helicopter drops were spot on."

The fire destroyed some RVs and farm buildings. KTLA-TV Channel 5 News video showed a mountain house or cabin burning.

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, Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service said.

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

At one point, the Ventura County Fire Department sent 20 trucks to Cal State 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 school 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 that-a-way,” 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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