Easy Fire Started Near Utility Line -- Some Residents Being Repopulated In Ventura County
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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.
The #EasyFire currently stands at 1,645 acres with zero containment. 1,000 firefighters continue to battle a wind-driven fire. All areas west of Highway 23 are being repopulated. Keep up with evacuation orders at https://t.co/h4HLpCop8s @VCFD_PIO @CountyVentura pic.twitter.com/p4xp8FadGO— Ventura County Fire (@VCFD) October 31, 2019
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."
Firefighters rushed to save the Regan Library and all of the surrounding neighborhoods this AM. Fuel seems to have been chamise and grasses. Burned hot and fast. Winds have made it tough, but they seem to be making great progress, though things can change quickly. #EasyFire pic.twitter.com/nGDAj1eUos— Jacob Margolis (@JacobMargolis) October 30, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
Clearly see the critical fire weather conditions right now. Red circles are stations hitting red flag criteria. Bigger circles = stronger winds. In a high fire risk area? Be ready and set to evacuate in case you have to. This is a dangerous situation. #EasyFire #cawx #RedFlag pic.twitter.com/S0uJqWY2wH— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) October 30, 2019
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
- Thousand Oaks Community Center, 2525 N. Moorpark Road
- Rancho Santa Susana Community Center, 5005 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley
- 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
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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
UPDATE as of 0830, SR23 is closed in both directions. If you drive up to an on-ramp to SR23 & there are cones blocking the lane(s), DO NOT drive around them. There is heavy smoke coming across SR23 & you will not be able to see. Closure is between Avenida de los Arbol&es LA Ave. pic.twitter.com/7FIs0SvTXN— CHP Moorpark (@CHPMoorpark) October 30, 2019
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.
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
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.
For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:
- Every Day Is Fire Season. Here's How Angelenos Can Prepare Right Now
- How To Find Out About Fire Evacuations In Your Area
- How To Keep Yourself Safe From Wildfire Smoke
- The Air Is Brown -- Should I Wear A Mask?
- This Is Why Fire Officials Don't Want You To Stay And Defend Your Home
- What Does 'Containment' Of A Fire Mean, Exactly?
- What Does A 'Red Flag Warning' Mean, Exactly?
- What To Do -- And Not Do -- When You Get Home After A Wildfire
- How To Avoid Getting Towed During LA's Red Flag Parking Restrictions
- If You Want To Help Fire Victims, Resist The Urge To Volunteer
NOTE: This developing story will be updated frequently.
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