Wild­fires rav­age homes in Cal­i­for­nia.

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page -

VEN­TURA, Calif. (AP) — For the 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.

There were no im­me­di­ate re­ports of any deaths or se­ri­ous in­juries in the blazes burn­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia's Ven­tura County, on the edge of Los Angeles and in in­land San Bernardino County.

The Ven­tura wild­fire broke out Mon­day and grew wildly to nearly 80 square miles (207 square kilo­me­ters). It was fanned by dry Santa Ana winds clocked at well over 60 mph (96 kph) that grounded fire­fight­ing he­li­copters and planes.

Lisa Ker­mode ig­nored the first evac­u­a­tion alert that buzzed on her phone when it said the fire was 15 miles away. But the flames were nearly on top of her an hour later when she rounded up her three chil­dren, still in their pa­ja­mas, and told them to grab some jeans.

They re­turned home Tues­day to find their world in ashes, in­clud­ing a Christ­mas tree and the presents they had just bought.

"We got knots in our stom­ach com­ing back up here," Ker­mode said. "We lost ev­ery­thing, ev­ery­thing, all our clothes, any­thing that was im­por­tant to us. All our fam­ily heir­looms — it's not sort of gone, it's com­pletely gone."

A smaller fire erupted on the north­ern edge of Los Angeles, threat­en­ing the Syl­mar and Lake­view Ter­race neigh­bor­hoods, where res­i­dents scram­bled to get out as heavy smoke bil­lowed over the city, cre­at­ing a health haz­ard for mil­lions of peo­ple.

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.

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. Hardly any mea­sur­able rain has fallen in the re­gion in the past six months.

Like the deadly Oc­to­ber fires in Napa and Sonoma coun­ties, the blazes are in ar­eas more sub­ur­ban than ru­ral.

"That means that there are go­ing to be far greater num­bers that are go­ing to be evac­u­ated, as we're see­ing now. And coun­ties and cities are go­ing to have to ex­pand their budgets," said Char Miller, a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal anal­y­sis at Pomona Col­lege who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about wild­fires. "These fires are not just fast and fu­ri­ous, but they're re­ally ex­pen­sive to fight."

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.

Aerial footage showed dozens of homes in one neigh­bor­hood burned to the ground and a large sub­di­vi­sion in jeop­ardy as the flames spit out em­bers that could spark new blazes.

More than 27,000 peo­ple were evac­u­ated, and one fire­fighter suf­fered bumps and bruises in a ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dent in Ven­tura County.

The fire erupted near Santa Paula, a city of some 30,000 peo­ple about 60 miles (97 kilo­me­ters) north­west of Los Angeles known for its cit­rus and av­o­cado or­chards and farm fields along the Santa Clara River.

"We had the fire come through here, pretty dra­mat­i­cally, all night long," said Karen HeathKarayan, who stayed up with her hus­band to douse em­bers that rained on their home and small lot where they sell Christ­mas trees. "It was re­ally scary."

They were or­dered to evac­u­ate as flames got within about 100 yards (90 me­ters), but they de­cided to stand their ground to pro­tect their prop­erty, where they have chick­ens and goats.

They hosed down their roof and hit hotspots be­fore winds pushed the fire over a hill to­ward neigh­bor­ing Ven­tura, a city of 106,000 where more peo­ple were or­dered to clear out.

"It was just ex­po­nen­tial, huge growth be­cause the winds, 50 mile an hour out of the east, were just push­ing it and grow­ing it very, very large, very quickly," Ven­tura County Fire Chief Mark Loren­zen said shortly after sun­rise.

Thomas Aquinas Col­lege, with about 350 stu­dents, was evac­u­ated.

AP Photo/Noah Berger

Fires: Flames con­sume a home on Via Ar­royo as a wild­fire rages in Ven­tura, Calif.,Tues­day.

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