(Updates with details on evacuation, air base, quotes from
By Alex Dobuzinskis
CAMARILLO, Calif. May 2 A wind-driven brush
fire raging northwest of Los Angeles prompted the evacuation of
hundreds of homes and a university campus on Thursday as flames
engulfed several farm buildings and recreational vehicles at the
fringe of threatened neighborhoods.
A smaller blaze in Riverside County some 80 miles to the
east destroyed two houses and damaged two others before
firefighters halted its spread, and at least five additional
wildfires were burning in northern California.
The flurry of blazes marked a fierce start to a fire season
in California that weather forecasters predict will be worsened
by a summer of high temperatures and drought throughout much of
the U.S. West.
The largest of the fires erupted at about 6:30 a.m. beside
the U.S. 101 freeway, less than 10 miles north of the Pacific
coast, and quickly consumed 6,500 acres of dry, dense chaparral
and brush near the communities of Camarillo and Newbury Park,
Ventura County fire department officials said.
Stiff winds fanned the so-called Springs Fire southward
toward the ocean for much of the day, prompting authorities to
close a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. Department
spokesman Bill Nash said no injuries were reported.
News footage broadcast by local KTLA-TV showed heavy smoke
in the area and flames engulfing recreational vehicles parked
near the evacuation zone. Later footage showed several farm
sheds and other structures at the edge of an agricultural field
going up in flames, apparently ignited by burning embers from
one flank of the fire.
Fire department spokesman Tom McHale told KTLA that
authorities were worried people could be exposed to toxic fumes
that might be released from agricultural facilities that burn.
"The winds are a big factor in this firefight," he said.
"Our concern is with pesticides and fumigants and things of that
Fire department spokeswoman Lori Ross later confirmed that a
number of homes, vehicles and farm buildings had been damaged,
but she had no details about the extent of property losses. The
cause of the blaze was under investigation.
Reverse 911-emergency calls were placed to residents of two
subdivisions near Camarillo and scattered houses along the
coastal highway telling them to flee the fire zone, an
evacuation encompassing 855 homes and thousands of people,
Ventura County sheriff's spokesman Eric Buschow said.
Evacuations were also ordered for the California State
University at Channel Islands campus, according to a bulletin
posted on the fire department website.
"It was nerve-wracking," said Shannon Morris, 19, a freshman
psychology major at the school, recounting the ominous sight of
flames creeping over a nearby hill as she and friend drove away
from the campus in her car. "The whole sky was gray and the sun
was like burning red."
Phil Gibbons, 57, a writer who works from home near the
campus, said he realized the fire was close when he looked out
his back window and saw heavy smoke blanketing his normally
pristine view of a canyon.
"When I left, I was actually really, really frightened,"
said Gibbons, one of 70 evacuees at a Camarillo shelter. "I
thought it was only a matter of time that the houses (in his
neighborhood) would catch fire."
More than 500 firefighters were dispatched to battle the
blaze, along with six water-dropping helicopters and several
bulldozers. Airplanes equipped to drop payloads of
fire-retardant chemicals were grounded by high winds and thick
smoke in the area, officials said.
At Point Mugu Naval Air Station, a coastal installation
south of Camarillo, all non-essential personnel on the coast
south of the fire were sent home early as a precaution,
spokesman Vance Vasquez said, adding that the base was not in
The second, separate blaze east of Los Angeles in Riverside
County erupted on vegetation in a roadway center divider and
quickly swept across 12 acres of brush, destroying two houses
before firefighters managed to halt the advancing flames.
That blaze, apparently triggered by a discarded cigarette or
some other hot object, was reported completely contained within
hours. It destroyed five outbuildings, 10 vehicles and a parked
boat, Riverside County fire spokesman Mark Annas said.
Two more homes were damaged and an elementary school and
gasoline service station were evacuated, but there were no known
injuries, he said.
A previous Riverside County brush fire that forced hundreds
of residents from their homes on Wednesday was largely contained
after scorching nearly 3,000 acres, officials said. Evacuation
orders there were lifted as of Thursday morning.
In northern California, at least five smaller wildfires were
reported on Thursday, state emergency management spokeswoman
Tina Walker told Reuters.
A red-flag warning, declaring what the National Weather
Service calls "extreme fire danger," was posted for much of
Southern California on Wednesday as high winds swept the region,
accompanied by soaring temperatures and low humidity.
(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by
Cynthia Johnston, Tim Dobbyn, Doina Chiacu, Andrew Hay, Bob