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Wildfires Bedevil Ventura County Even As It Recovers From A Mass Shooting

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A wildfire comes down from a hilltop Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, near Newbury Park, Calif. (Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
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Editor's note: This post is no longer being updated. Go here for the latest on the fires.

By Mike Roe and Brian Frank

Two separate wildfires prompted the evacuations of hundreds of homes and injured at least one firefighter in Ventura County Thursday, even as the community was reeling from a mass shooting in nearby Thousand Oaks the night before.

The Hill Fire, which ignited in Newbury Park just after 2 p.m. and quickly scorched thousands of acres, has led to the evacuations of 1,200 homes in the Camarillo Springs and Dos Vientos areas, county emergency officials said via Twitter.

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The Woolsey Fire, which broke out just a short while after in the area of Rocketdyne, has burned more than 1,000 acres and prompted mandatory evacuations in the community of Bell Canyon.

The fires also prompted the closure of the 101 Freeway in both directions, according to the California Highway Patrol. Southbound lanes were closed from SR-34 (Lewis Road) to Wendy Drive, northbound from SR-23 to Pleasant Valley Road.

KQED's John Sepulvado and Hope McKenney shared images of the flames rising in the distance as the wind whipped smoke and dust into the air. Sepulvado has been contributing to KPCC/LAist's coverage of a shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill that left 13 people dead late Thursday night.

"In the most 2018 moment of 2018, we can't get to the memorial for the shooting victims because a wildfire has cut off the 101 north of Thousand Oaks," Sepulvado tweeted.

HILL FIRE

The Hill Fire has so far burned between 5,000 and 7,000 acres, a number that was revised down from earlier estimates that put it closer to 10,000 acres.

At some point, an apparatus operator sustained a minor injury, according to Ventura County Fire Assistant Chief Chad Cook, who spoke at an evening press conference.

As many as 500 firefighters were on scene as of 7:30 p.m., with more expected to arrive for overnight operations. They face difficult conditions, with low humidity and fierce Santa Ana winds, according to VCFD Chief Mark Lorenzen, who also spoke at the press conference.

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The fire has been driven by 20-30 mph winds, and with gusts expected to reach up to 50 mph on ridge tops by morning, the fire has the potential to sweep all the way to the ocean, Lorenzen said.

Emergency officials had been prepared for the worst. Ventura County firefighters coordinated with neighboring counties and cities and the National Weather Service, prepositioning their resources, but they were still outpaced by the fire.

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A police officer directs traffic at a checkpoint in front of an advancing wildfire Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, near Newbury Park, Calif. (Photo by Richard Vogel/AP)

Within 12 minutes of ignition, flames had jumped the 101 Freeway at the top of the Conejo Grade near the truck scales, Lorenzen said.

At one point, motorists were stranded on the freeway, Cook said.

Fixed-wing aircraft were used to drop retardant nearby to protect the vehicles stuck on the road, and some motorists had to shelter in place before firefighters were able to help them evacuate, he said.

No civilians have been reported injured. Cook credited their community notification technologies, including reverse 911 and VC Alert, with getting the message out and people evacuated quickly.

No structures have been confirmed lost, though a number of recreational vehicles and outbuildings were damaged or destroyed in Camarillo Springs and at the west end of Newbury Park, Lorenzen said.

Cook added that the fire has the potential to impact critical infrastructure.

The Hill Fire's two flanks are pushing on the one hand toward the Cal State Channel Islands campus and homes along Potrero Road and into the Broom Ranch subdivision, and on the other toward naval installations, including a communication tower for Point Mugu Naval Air Station set up on Laguna Peak.

"I would say we are not out of the woods when it comes to assessed evaluation and threat that's out in front of this fire," Cook said.

The fire was still active on both sides of the 101 freeway, which Cook said would likely be closed long into the night.

Firefighters will be assisted from above by at least four water-dropping helicopters that can operate at night.

EVACUATIONS

Mandatory evacuations are in place in the following areas, according to Ventura County:

  • Bell Canyon - Saddlebow Rd. between Maverick Ln. and Morgan Rd.
  • Camarillo Springs - All areas
  • Vallecito Trailer Park - All areas
  • California State University Channel Islands - All areas
  • Entire Dos Vientos - All areas outlined on map below

California State University Channel Islands issued a campus evacuation order because of poor air quality and said classes and student activities would be canceled until further notice.
There are also voluntary evacuations at Point Magu Naval Base.

Evacuation centers have been set up at these locations:

  • Borchard Community Center - 190 Reino Road. Newbury Park, CA 91320
  • Camarillo Community Center - 1605 East Burnley St. Camarillo, CA 93010
  • Rancho Santa Susana Recreation Center - 5005 Unit C Los Angeles Ave. Simi Valley, CA 93063

WHERE TO FIND UPDATES ON BOTH FIRES:

This story is no longer being updated.


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