California fires force evacuation of homes

Calming winds have helped firefighters battle a 4,000-acre wildfire that prompted a voluntary evacuation of about 200 ridge-top homes.

Calming winds have helped firefighters battle a 4,000-acre wildfire that prompted a voluntary evacuation of about 200 ridge-top homes.

Fierce Santa Ana winds fanned the late-season blaze that started early yesterday in School Canyon – a hilly, rocky area between Ventura and Ojai, about 60 miles north-west of Los Angeles.

The blaze was 15% contained late last night and officials hoped to make significant progress through the night as crews dug around the fire’s borders and the winds died down, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Ron Haralson said.

“We still have a few hot spots, but the fire is mostly laying down,” he said.

The origin point and cause of the fire were under investigation.

At midmorning, a wall of flames as high as 30 feet snaked along hillsides, and by early afternoon a huge plume of brown smoke carried ash to the nearby Pacific Ocean.

In just a few hours, the wind-driven fire tripled in size. But the fire calmed down in the early evening as a cooler onshore breeze helped decrease winds and temperatures.

The US National Weather Service cancelled a wind advisory, but forecasters cautioned winds would continue in the area through early tomorrow at 15 to 25 mph with isolated gusts near 35 mph.

The fire roared down School Canyon heading to the northern edge of Ventura. At one point, it burned to the backyards of several large homes.

“We have a lot of crews up there and are making every effort to protect those structures,” said Joe Luna, a spokesman with the Ventura County Fire Department. “But we are confident that the winds – when they calm down – will allow us to put this out.”

Many of the stucco homes in the area have tile roofs, and fire officials said requirements that brush be cleared around houses had helped.

Still, firefighting equipment was headed to Ventura from throughout the state. Bulldozers worked their way up Highway 101 from Los Angeles. Water-dropping helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft also were called in to assist firefighters on the ground.

Last night, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency authorised the use of federal funds to help the state battle the fire.

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