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Hundreds of California homes evacuated in brush fire threat

Date: 03-May-13
Country: USA
Author: Alex Dobuzinskis

Hundreds of California homes evacuated in brush fire threat Photo: Gene Blevins
A fast moving brush fire approaches a home in the Newbury Park area area of Ventura County, California May 2, 2013.
Photo: Gene Blevins

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 being battled 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 larger fire erupted at about 6:30 a.m. beside the U.S. 101 freeway and quickly consumed roughly 6,500 acres of dry, dense chaparral and brush near the communities of Camarillo and Newbury Park, Ventura County fire department officials said.

Department spokesman Bill Nash said no injuries were reported.

Live news footage broadcast by Los Angeles television station KTLA showed heavy smoke in the area and flames engulfing several 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 nature."

EVACUATIONS

An entire residential subdivision called Dos Vientos, encompassing hundreds of homes, was placed under mandatory evacuation orders, Nash said.

Evacuations were also ordered for the California State University at Channel Islands campus, according to a bulletin posted on the fire department website.

More than 200 firefighters were dispatched to battle the blaze, along with several helicopters and planes equipped to drop water and fire retardant chemicals from the air.

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 being battled 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)

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