Two major fires roared through Southern California on Tuesday and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, in the latest outburst of what has been one of the state’s worst fire seasons.
The first fire, in Ventura County, started Monday evening and spread rapidly overnight to envelop at least 45,000 acres, destroying at least 150 structures and prompting 27,000 people to evacuate.
The second began Tuesday morning in Los Angeles County and quickly grew to encompass more than 4,000 acres. Both fires were fed by dry conditions and fierce winds, the authorities said.
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Thousands of Southern Californians fled their homes Tuesday as an immense, incredibly fast-moving brush fire pushed by howling Santa Ana winds scorched parts of Ventura County. By Tuesday afternoon, none of the fire had been contained and it had grown to 50,000 acres — about 78 square miles — in just 19 hours.
The fire — the largest of several wind-driven blazes in Southern California — forced sheriff’s deputies to knock on doors to warn residents to evacuate Monday night. About 150 buildings, including homes and an evacuated Ventura hospital, have been destroyed.
For second time in two months, wind-driven fires tore through California communities in the middle of the night, leaving rows of homes and a psychiatric hospital in ruins Tuesday and sending tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives.
The first fire, named the Thomas Fire, began north of Santa Paula, Calif., and burned its way into the city of Ventura, according to an incident report posted by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. The blaze spread with astonishing speed. The sheriff’s office received its first reports at 6:24 p.m. on Monday. By midnight, the fire was estimated to have reached 10,000 acres. The Ventura County wildfire grew wildly to nearly 80 square miles (207 square kilometers) in a matter of hours. It was fanned by dry Santa Ana winds clocked at well over 60 mph (96 kph) that grounded firefighting helicopters and planes.
The Thomas Fire, which was fueled by the Santa Ana winds, was one of the worst he had seen, partly because of the number of homes that were affected. Frequently those strong winds push fires toward the ocean, burning through less inhabited canyons and their dense brush along the way. Fires like those do not typically affect as many neighborhoods as the Thomas Fire did.
At least 186,000 people were without power in Ventura County on Tuesday, many of them in the affected area. No fatalities had been confirmed on Tuesday morning.
In Los Angeles County, about 700 firefighters and 200 police officers were responding to the fire, named the Creek Fire, officials said. There were no reports of fatalities or injuries Tuesday morning, but approximately 2,500 homes were evacuated.
Daryl L. Osby, the county’s fire chief, said that the Creek Fire had been reported overnight, as his department was busy fighting the fire in Ventura. He said it was extreme and erratic “in ways that people may not have experienced in the past,” adding that five years of a continuing drought and unpredictable winds, with gusts up to 70 miles an hour, were partly to blame.
He said the fire department had not been able to confirm reports that people were trapped by the flames. No injuries or fatalities had been reported as of Tuesday morning.
“We are in an extreme firefight right now, trying to protect lives and save property,” he said.
Just eight weeks ago, wildfires that broke out in Northern California and its wine country killed 44 people and destroyed 8,900 homes and other buildings.
See our report back then:
Fires aren’t typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Los Angeles has gotten hardly any measurable rain in two months.
Like the deadly October fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, the blazes are in areas more suburban than rural.
The early official count was that at least 150 structures burned in the Ventura County fire, but it was sure to go higher.
Mansions and modest homes alike were in flames. The Hawaiian Village Apartments burned to the ground. The Vista del Mar Hospital, which treats patients with mental problems or substance abuse, including veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome, smoldered after burning overnight