A quick-moving wildfire that started Thursday afternoon in the Santa Rosa Valley jumped the 101 Freeway and is likely to head all the way to the Pacific Ocean amid high winds, the Ventura County incident commander said.
The Hill Fire has prompted mandatory evacuations affecting at least 1,200 homes – and forced the closure of the busy 101 Freeway, which is likely to remain off-limits to traffic overnight. Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu was under a mandatory evacuation order.
The Hill Fire was burning just a few miles from the site of mass shooting that also brought out Ventura County first responders Thursday at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks.
The blaze started in a steep, rocky area about 2 p.m. near Hill Canyon and Santa Rosa roads and, driven by winds of 25 to 30 mph, burned toward Newbury Park. Within 12 to 15 minutes, it jumped the 101 Freeway and continued burning on the south side, authorities said.
"Santa Ana winds outpaced our firefighting resources," Ventura County Fire Department Assistant Chief Chad Cook said.
Firefighters were able to help motorists who were stranded on the freeway shelter in place in their vehicles as they faced "direct flame impingement," Cook said. Fixed-wing aircraft dropped retardant along the freeway corridor from a high altitude – where pilots needed to fly to avoid power lines in the area, he said.
The easterly winds continued pushing the blaze toward the area burned by the devastating 2013 Springs Fire, where vegetation is less abundant than where the Hill Fire began. That slowed the spread, Cook said.
About 1 1/2 hours after the Hill Fire began, the Fire Department estimated it had grown to 8,000 to 10,000 acres. But by about 8 p.m., Cook said at a news conference that it was more like 5,000 to 7,000 acres. Daylight will bring better mapping and a more accurate measurement, Cook said.
Meanwhile, another blaze – the Woolsey Fire in eastern Ventura County – was burning in the Simi Hills near the former Rocketdyne facility, prompting mandatory evacuations in Bell Canyon and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as voluntary orders in other areas nearby.
The Hill Fire has "greatly taxed our resources," Cook said, but more firefighters were en route to Ventura County and he was confident the department could handle the two blazes overnight. Four hundred to 500 firefighters are working the Hill Fire. Los Angeles city and county firefighters are helping on the Woolsey Fire.
A fire engineer received a minor injury in the Hill Fire, the assistant captain said.
Ventura County has four firefighting helicopters capable of working water drops overnight, and they were equipped to continue doing so, Cook said.
The winds were expected to pick up again after midnight and into morning. Ridge tops could see winds of 40 to 50 mph, and that could push the blaze some 5 to 6 miles toward the Pacific Ocean, similar to the path of the Springs Fire, Cook said.
A red flag warning for Santa Ana winds is in effect Thursday and Friday for Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The strongest winds should occur Thursday night, and relative humidity will drop into the single digits, according to the National Weather Service.
About 2 1/2 hours after the Hill Fire broke out around 2 p.m., a home, trucks and trailers appeared to be burning in the area of Old Conejo Road and Vista Conejo on the western end of Thousand Oaks, aerial video from Sky5 showed.
Cook said only some outbuildings and RVs had burned – no residential or commercial structures. Steel transmission towers for power lines that were in the path of the fire are "robust," he added.
Evacuation orders, road closures
Residents in the Camarillo Springs area and Vicieto Trailer Park are facing mandatory evacuations, as are the California State University Channel Islands, Dos Vientos areas, the Ventura County Fire Department said on Twitter.
For the Dos Vientos and Camarillo Springs areas, some 1,200 homes were evacuated, the Fire Department said.
Evacuated residents were directed to the Borchard Community Center in Newbury Park, located at 190 Reino Road, as well as the Camarillo Community Center, 1605 East Burnley Street, officials said. Both were accepting small animals.
The Ventura County Fair Grounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd. in Ventura and Pierce College , 7100 El Rancho Drive in Woodland Hills, were accepting large animals, while the Ventura County Animal Shelter, 600 Aviation Drive in Camarillo, was available to house small animals, authorities said.
On the eastern edge of Camarillo, residents were preparing for evacuation.
"It's just insane, burning right up into our backyard. It's never been this close to our actual home before," said Chris Piantino. "We're going to stay as long as possible, until we need to get out, then I'll get my kinds, my grandkids, my wife, all the pets, and load them up."
Lots of local families in the area are feeling heartache due the fires and the mass shooting, he noted.
"It's just sad to see the whole county going through such devastation at the moment," Piantino said.
The northbound 101 Freeway is closed at State Route 23, with traffic being diverted onto northbound State Route 23, Caltrans said. The southbound 101 Freeway is closed at Pleasant Valley Road.
Officials also said Moorpark Road is closed from the 101 Freeway to Los Padres Drive. North and south off-ramps for the freeway at Moorpark Road are also closed.
Thursday evening, the Pleasant Valley School District announced all schools would be closed on Friday. Conejo Valley Unified schools were also set to be closed, as were Las Virgenes Unified schools and Simi Valley Unified School District campuses. Find a full list of school closures at the Ventura County Office of Education website.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect year for the Springs Fire. The post has been updated.