Santa Paula (United States) (AFP) – Firefighters were battling a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California on Tuesday that has left at least one person dead, sent thousands fleeing, and destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses.
The Ventura County Fire Department said more than 27,000 people had been told to evacuate their homes as the fast-moving fire in the coastal county north of Los Angeles grew to 45,000 acres (18,200 hectares).
“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told a news conference during the night prior. “Really, Mother Nature is going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”
The National Weather Service said easterly Santa Ana winds fueling the fire had registered gusts of up to 55 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) — predicting they could hit upwards of 80 miles per hour into the afternoon.
“The fire is pushing quickly towards the city of Ventura,” Lorenzen said, and has reached the eastern city limits. The Pacific Ocean beachfront city has a population of around 100,000.
The fire chief said one death had been reported. “As the individual was evacuating from the fire, the car overturned,” he said.
Authorities said more than 1,000 firefighters were currently fighting the “Thomas Fire” — a blaze captured in apocalyptic images with flames sometimes taking on the appearance of a volcanic eruption.
“Fixed wing aircraft and helicopters are expected to attack the fire at daybreak,” the Ventura County website said.
The NWS put a “red flag” warning into effect for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Thursday, saying the coming days would likely see “the strongest and longest duration Santa Ana wind event we have seen so far this season.”
– Deadliest year in wildfires –
“If fire ignition occurs, there will be the potential for very rapid fire spread” and “extreme fire behavior that could lead to a threat to life and property,” the weather agency said.
The Southern California Edison utility company said 180,000 customers in Ventura County and 83,000 in Santa Barbara County were without power.
Lorenzen said the fire was consuming dry brush.
“It’s heavy brush, brush that hasn’t burned in 15 to 20 years,” he said.
“And it’s been a five-, six-year drought so the fuel is just tinder dry and just as ripe as can be for fire spread.”
Further complicating the struggle to contain the flames, local officials said another fire had ignited Tuesday morning, quickly spreading across more than…