The 101 Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway were reopened and mandatory evacuations were lifted as fire crews appeared to gain the upper hand on a wind-driven wildfire near Ventura that burned nearly 1,250 acres on Saturday.
The Solimar Fire broke out on Christmas around 10:30 p.m. and quickly spread, fueled by winds with gusts of up to 50 mph, according to Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mike Lorenzen and Santa Monica Fire Department Deputy Chief Tom Clemo.
The brush fire, located about 6 miles northwest of Ventura, was just 10 percent contained on Saturday morning.
But by 5 p.m., authorities announced that containment of the 1,230-acre blaze had increased to 60 percent. Forward progress of the fire had also been stopped, Clemo told reporters gathered at the early evening news briefing.
More than 400 firefighters remained at the line, and operations would continue through the night.
"We made tremendous progress today, despite the challenges of high winds, steep terrain, significant brush," Clemo said. “As things stand now, we are in excellent posture for tomorrow’s operation period."
Both sides of the 101 Freeway were closed overnight from State Route 33 to State Route 150 -- by the Santa Barbara County line -- and reopened by 2:05 p.m., Fire Department Capt. Mike Lindbery tweeted. The Pacific Coast Highway was also open again several hours later, Ventura County fire officials said.
The 101 is a heavily trafficked corridor connecting coastal Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and is a major route for motorists traveling between Los Angeles and the Central Coast. The coastal stretch that was temporarily closed features stunning ocean views and is bordered on the other side by mountainous terrain.
Earlier in the day, fire officials described the blaze as "dynamic," and warned that even if the road reopened it could be closed again if the flames changed direction or speed of growth.
The blaze also temporarily closed Union Pacific railroads in the area, but it were able to resume service around 10 a.m., the Los Angeles Times reports.
Prior to the freeway's reopening, Caltrans workers assessed the freeway for damage after the flames jumped the roadway. Details on their findings were not immediately known.
Some 600 firefighters initially responded to the fast-moving blaze, and four fixed-wing tankers were released.
Two firefighters sustained minor injuries -- one to the knee, the other to an ankle -- battling the blaze, officials said at the news briefing.
Some 30 homes were initially threatened, but officials later said the structures were not in immediate danger.
Still, between 50 to 60 residences were under mandatory evacuation in the Solimar Beach area throughout the day, while another 30 to 40 homes were under voluntary evacuation in nearby Faria Beach.
The Fire Department announced that all evacuations ordered were lifted on Saturday evening. No structures were damaged or destroyed, but there were "numerous miscellaneous vegetation fires in and amongst that Solimar community," said Venture Fire Battalion Chief Fred Burris.
As the evacuation orders went into effect, the Red Cross established a shelter for evacuees at the Veterans Memorial Building at 941 Walnut Ave. in Carpinteria.
The only mandatory closure that remained in place as of 5 p.m. was the campground at Emma Wood State Beach, according to Burgis.
As the day progressed, firefighters faced cool and windy conditions; a wind advisory issued by the National Weather Service was expected to be in place through noon Sunday.
Until then, north-northeast winds of 15 to 20 mph were predicted to decrease to 10 to 15 mph by the morning, but gusts could reach 30 mph.
The cause of the fire remained under investigation, but authorities believed a downed power line sparked the initial flames, an official said at the early evening briefing.
Firefighters predicted they would be on scene for three days, or until the fire was fully under control.
Responding agencies included the Ventura County Fire Department, Ventura City Fire Department, Santa Paula City Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Cal Fire, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Ventura County Sheriff's Office and California Highway Patrol.