Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in southern California after fierce winds sparked a wildfire that tore through the foothills northwest of Los Angeles on Monday night.
The fire, first reported at 6:25 p.m. PST in Ventura County, is estimated to have spread to 25,000 acres within the first eight hours.
Firefighters from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara are battling the flames as they spread towards Santa Paula, a city of about 30,000 residents about 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles, and Ventura, which is 12 miles southwest and home to about 106,000 people.
It is believed to have started near Thomas Aquinas College, a popular hiking destination six miles north of the city on Highway 150, before being pushed south by winds with gusts of more than 50 mph.
The so-called “Thomas fire” had reached palm trees behind Ventura City Hall by 1:00 a.m., threatening historic homes, according to fire officials.
— VCFD PIO (@VCFD_PIO) December 5, 2017
Weather officials say wind gusts could grow to 70 mph overnight.
“The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people, and protect structures.”
Copter 6 & 7 were forced to land at Santa Paula Airport due to 50 +MPH winds. Waiting for winds to slow down so we can get back in the fight. @VCSOVentura @VCSORomanoBassi @VCFD pic.twitter.com/yhGa5m42sp
— VenturaCoAirUnit (@VCAirUnit) December 5, 2017
Mass power cuts left around 260,000 people in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties without electricity, prompting a “transmission emergency” in the area.
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) December 5, 2017
One person has been killed in a car accident on a road closed due to the fire, authorities said, while two buildings have been destroyed.
“We’re really just trying to catch it around the edges and just pinch it off as quickly as we possibly can,” said Ventura County Firefighter Jason Hodge. “That’s what’s driving this fire. So it’s a challenge, but everybody’s out there working hard and will be through the night.”