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Easy Fire Started Near Utility Line -- Some Residents Being Repopulated In Ventura County

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Firefighters walk through a cloud of smoke as winds fuel the Easy Fire Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Simi Valley, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
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Jump to: Evacuations | Closures | Weather Conditions | Air Quality | Additional Resources


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A fast-moving wildfire that broke out in Ventura County Wednesday, prompting thousands of homes to be evacuated in the communities of Simi Valley, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks, likely started near a power line owned by Southern California Edison.

The utility filed a report with state regulators, stating that the fire was sparked near a sub-transmission that was energized, according to the Associated Press, which cited Edison spokeswoman Caroline Aoyagi. The fire's cause has yet to be officially determined.

The Easy Fire was reported just before 6:10 a.m. Wednesday, south of the 118 Freeway near Madera and Easy streets in the city of Simi Valley. Flames spread rapidly west toward the 23 Freeway and south toward Thousand Oaks, and as of about 6 p.m., they had burned roughly 1,650 acres, Ventura County fire officials said.

At one point about 30,000 people were placed under mandatory evacuation orders, and another 2,000 were given voluntary evacuation orders. Around 7 p.m., fire officials said some residents were being allowed to return.

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The fire jumped the 23 Freeway just north of Tierra Rejada Road shortly after 3 p.m., but crews were able to knock down that spot and and stop it from spreading west.

Earlier it burned completely around the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, according to Duke Blackwood, the museum and library director, who said "there's not much left to burn."

Blackwood described a harrowing scene as he made his way across the grounds in a golf cart in "blackout conditions." He said he was pummeled by 50 mph winds and that the ash was so thick he had to close his eyes. "We didn't know where we were driving, so yeah, that was pretty crazy."

Crews came in with water-dropping helicopters, sky cranes and fixed wing aircraft to help with the firefight.

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It helped that the library does brush clearance every year using goats, Blackwood said. The fire department told him the resulting fire break helped protect the property.

Other properties may not have been so lucky. At a noon press briefing, Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said some outbuildings had been destroyed and "potentially one residential structure" has burned.

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Smoke engulfs around the Ronald Reagan Library during the Easy Fire, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Simi Valley. (Christian Monterrosa/AP)

VCFD Assistant Chief Chad Cook earlier said the fire quickly "outflanked" firefighters, who were operating on the defensive to protect life and property.

"Our actions right now are to stay engaged on the flanks of the fire and keep it right now within our box," Cook said. That "box" was defined as 118 Freeway to the north, Madera Road to the east and south where the road curves, and continuing west to the 23 Freeway.

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Cook said firefighters would shift to offense and work to build containment lines at the flanks of the fire as soon as possible.

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that his office had secured a federal grant through FEMA to assist local and regional agencies responding to the fire. Newsom had earlier declared a statewide emergency as volatile winds fueled several major fires across the state.

THE BASICS

  • Acres burned: 1,645
  • Containment: 0%
  • Injuries: 3 firefighters
  • Structures threatened: 7,000 homes
  • Structures destroyed: 2
  • Resources deployed: More than 1,000 firefighters, 100 engines, 16 hand crews, 10 helicopters, 6 air tankers, 17 bulldozers and 1 water tender

WEATHER CONDITIONS

The fire broke out amid an "extreme red flag warning" as strong Santa Ana winds and dry conditions create a critical risk for similar fires through 6 p.m. Thursday.

Winds in the area of the Easy Fire are expected to reach 40-50 mph today, with gusts up to 60 mph in the ridgetops, according to National Weather Service forecasters. And strong gusts will continue through the night.


RELATED: California Fires Are Getting Worse. What's Going On?


EVACUATIONS

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Natalie Acosta, left, and Lea Rivera cover their faces from the smoke created by the Easy Fire Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Simi Valley. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Some evacuation orders were lifted Wednesday evening, and some residents were being allowed to return, but the following area was still under mandatory evacuation orders as of about 7 p.m., according to the Ventura County emergency incident page:

Mandatory evacuation orders (a detailed map is available here):

In Simi Valley / Unincorporated Simi Valley / Moorpark:

  • The 118 Freeway to the north
  • Olsen / Madera Street to the south
  • Madera Street to the east
  • Highway 23 to the west

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A woman looks on as the Easy Fire approaches on Oct. 30, 2019 near Simi Valley. The National Weather Service issued a rare extreme red flag warning for Southern California for gusts that could be the strongest in more than a decade, exceeding 80 mph, as the fast-moving brush fire threatens the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and nearby residential neighborhoods. (David McNew/Getty Images)

EVACUATION CENTERS

For people:

  • Thousand Oaks Community Center, 2525 N. Moorpark Road
  • Rancho Santa Susana Community Center, 5005 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley

For animals:

  • Large animals/livestock - Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real, Santa Barbara
  • Large animals - Ventura County Humane Society, 402 Bryant St., Ojai (call ahead at 805-646-6505)
  • Large animals - Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd. (limited capacity)
  • Small animals - Camarillo Adoption Center, 600 Aviation Drive
  • (FULL)


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A man evacuates horses as the Easy Fire approaches on Oct. 30, 2019 near Simi Valley. (David McNew/Getty Images)

ROAD CLOSURES

A few roadways are closed in the area, according to California Highway Patrol officials:

  • SR-23 between Avenida de los Arboles and 118 Interchange
  • Southbound SR-23 at New Los Angeles Avenue
  • Madera Road from Country Club Drive West to SR-23

SCHOOL CLOSURES

The following Ventura County K-12 public schools will be closed Thursday:

  • ACE Charter High School (Camarillo)
  • Briggs School District
  • Conejo Valley Unified School District
  • Fillmore Unified School District
  • Hueneme Elementary School District
  • Mesa Union School District
  • Moorpark Unified School District
  • Mupu School District
  • Oak Park Unified School District
  • Ocean View School District
  • Oxnard Union High School District
  • Pleasant Valley School District
  • Rio School District
  • Santa Clara Elementary School District
  • Santa Paula Unified School District
  • Simi Valley Unified School District

Additionally, all schools operated by the Ventura County Office of Education will be closed Thursday, with the exception of Ojai TEAMS and Providence School.

The following colleges were closed Wednesday:

On Thursday, Cal Lutheran's Thousand Oaks campus and Oxnard, Westlake and Woodland Hills centers are expected to remain closed.
AIR QUALITY

The air quality in areas impacted by smoke or dust should be considered unhealthy, according to the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, which advised people to avoid vigorous outdoor exercise or even indoor exertion.

The smoke was expected to be heaviest in Simi Valley, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks, and the strong Santa Ana winds will likely kick up dust throughout the county, the APCD said.

For the latest air quality information for the region, check the APCD website.

SCENES FROM THE GROUND

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HOW WE'RE REPORTING ON THIS

Reporter Jacob Margolis was with firefighters near the burn zone in the Simi Valley / Thousand Oaks area. Digital producers Ryan Fonseca and Brian Frank kept this story updated. Additional research and reporting was done by KPCC newscast producers.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:

FIRE RESOURCES

NOTE: This developing story will be updated frequently.

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