Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire threat­ens scenic ‘Shangri-La’ re­treat

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY NOAH BERGER AND AMANDA LEE MY­ERS As­so­ci­ated Press

Ojai, Calif. — The big­gest and most de­struc­tive of the wind­blown fires rak­ing South­ern Cal­i­for­nia shut down one of the re­gion’s busiest free­ways Thurs­day and threat­ened Ojai, a scenic moun­tain town dubbed “ShangriLa” and known for its bou­tique ho­tels and New Age spir­i­tual re­treats.

Most of Ojai’s 7,000 res­i­dents were warned to clear out late Wed­nes­day and pa­tients un­able to walk were moved from the Ojai Val­ley Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal be­cause of un­prece­dented, hur­ri­cane-force Santa Ana winds in the overnight fore­cast.

The winds turned out to be less fierce than ex­pected, but fire­fight­ers still had to con­tend with gusts that fanned the fire to 150 square miles and put thou­sands of homes in jeop­ardy.

Down along the coast, fires flared along U.S. High­way 101, forc­ing an evac­u­a­tion of the tiny com­mu­nity of Faria Beach.

“Any­one in your homes still, you need to leave now,” a Cal­i­for­nia High- way Pa­trol of­fi­cer said through a loud­speaker while driving down a smokeshrouded street. “The fire is here, you need to leave.”

Joseph Ruffner, who left ear­lier in the week, said he was stay­ing put.

“This morn­ing there was a wall of fire back right over here,” he said. “I didn’t think it was no big deal, but it’s com­ing back to burn what it didn’t burn yes­ter­day.”

The high­way,

which

runs

the

Al Seib length of the state and is a ma­jor com­muter cor­ri­dor to Los An­ge­les, was closed in­ter­mit­tently along the 28mile stretch be­tween Ven­tura and Santa Bar­bara.

The Ven­tura County blaze and three other ma­jor fires burn­ing in the Los An­ge­les area have put tens of thou­sands of peo­ple un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders and de­stroyed nearly 200 homes and build­ings.

A woman was found

dead

in

a wrecked car in an evac­u­a­tion zone near the city of Santa Paula, where the Ven­tura County blaze be­gan Mon­day night, but of­fi­cials could not im­me­di­ately say whether the ac­ci­dent was fire-re­lated.

In Ojai, the nor­mally bustling town was prac­ti­cally va­cant as smoke hung along the sur­round­ing hill­sides. Known as “Shangri-La,” both for its role as the stand-in for a Hi­malayan utopia in the 1937 Frank Capra movie “Lost Hori­zon” and for the mag­i­cal vibe it is said to have, the town has at­tracted artists, hip­pies and spir­i­tual thinkers for gen­er­a­tions.

It is a pop­u­lar get­away some 60 miles north­west of Los An­ge­les for vis­i­tors look­ing for tran­quil hikes, farmto-ta­ble din­ing and spa treat­ments.

Like many of the places that have seen re­peated cat­a­strophic fires, it is an al­lur­ing place to live but one that is also prone to burn.

“The brush-cov­ered hills, the rock for­ma­tions, the steep ter­rain … all of that helps to pro­mote very ac­tive fire be­hav­ior,” said Ven­tura County Fire Capt. Bren­dan Ri­p­ley.

/ TNS

Fires flared along U.S. High­way 101, forc­ing an evac­u­a­tion of tiny Faria Beach.

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