SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (KABC) — A fast-moving vegetation fire erupted on the hillsides above Simi Valley on Wednesday amid extreme red-flag conditions, prompting evacuation orders and school closures as it spread to at least 1,648 acres.
The Easy Fire began shortly after 6 a.m. near the 200 block of West Los Angeles Avenue. Homes in nearby residential neighborhoods were immediately threatened by the flames, even after winds initially seemed to be blowing the fire in a direction away from houses.
Hours later, the Ventura County Fire Department said 6,500 homes were in danger. One structure was destroyed. More than 1,000 firefighters were working to battle the flames.
About 30,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders as of Wednesday evening.
Helicopters were seen performing water drops on the blaze while multiple fixed-wing aircraft dropped payloads of pink Phos-Chek.
Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said one of the biggest challenges was stopping the fire from jumping from the east side of Highway 23 to the other side. The strong winds did push the flames to the other side of the freeway, but firefighters were able to stop them from advancing further.
“Firefighters aggressively stood there and battled the flames,” Lorenzen said.
Even though firefighters were making good progress, Lorenzen cautioned the public to remain vigilant and be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
“We still are not through this,” he said at a 6 p.m Wednesday update. “We have another 24 hours of significant weather conditions and a lot of threat. Please stay aware, stay tuned and always be ready with a plan.”
Firefighters raced to protect the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library as a thin wall of flames approached from a nearby hillside. The facility, which used an unusual precautionary measure, was closed Wednesday.
“We actually worked with the Ventura County Fire Department in May and they bring out hundreds of goats to our property,” said Melissa Giller, a spokeswoman for the library. “The goats eat all of the brush around the entire property creating a fire perimeter.”
Mandatory evacuations in Ventura County as of Wednesday afternoon included these areas:
Simi Valley / Unincorporated Simi Valley / Moorpark / Thousand Oaks: Area bordered by Highway 118 to the north; Olsen/Madera Street to the south; Madera Street to the east; and Highway 23 to the west.
Moorpark / Thousand Oaks: Area bordered by Read Road to the north; Olsen Road, south; Highway 23, east and Moorpark Road to the west.
Santa Rosa / Thousand Oaks: Area bordered by Santa Rosa Road to the north, Andalusia Drive to the south, Moorpark Road to the east, Andalusia Drive to the west.
Moorpark: Area bordered by Los Angeles Avenue to the north; Tierra Rejada Road to the south; the 23 Freeway to the east; and Spring Road to the west.
Moorpark/Thousand Oaks: Area bordered by Tierra Rejada Road to the north; Santa Rosa Road to the south; Moorpark Road to the east; and Vista Grande to the west.
Voluntary evacuations were in place for Thousand Oaks in the area bordered by East Olsen Road to the north, Sunset Hills Boulevard to the south, Morning Ridge Avenue to the east and Sunset Hills/East Olsen Road to the west.
A map of evacuated areas is available here.
Additional evacuation information and updates for Ventura County is available here.
Evacuation shelters were established at the Thousand Oaks Community Center at 2525 N. Moorpark Road and Rancho Santa Susana Community Center, 5005 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley.
Large animals could be evacuated to the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura and the Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real, Santa Barbara.
Small animals can be brought to the Camarillo Adoption Center, 600 Aviation Dr., Camarillo.
The conflagration forced the California Highway Patrol to close California 23 (the Moorpark Freeway) in both directions between Avenida de los Arboles and Los Angeles Avenue.
Just before 1:30 p.m., a new brush fire ignited near homes on Yosemite Avenue along the 118 Freeway, about eight miles east of where the Easy Fire started.
Firefighters made quick work of the second incident, dubbed the Yosemite Fire.
Here are the latest Ventura County public school closures for Wednesday, October 30, 2019.
Flames and embers from the Easy Fire jumped the 23 Freeway about 2:30 p.m. DC-10s and other aircraft quickly pounced on the area, repeatedly dropping fire retardant in an effort to protect a residential community near the Tierra Rejada Golf Club.
All campuses in nearly a dozen school districts were closed Wednesday, as were several other educational facilities in the area, according to the Ventura County Office of Education.
Santa Ana winds were expected to reach speeds of 40-50 mph in the burn area on Wednesday, with gusts of up to 60 mph on ridgetops, the National Weather Service said. Single-digit humidity was expected throughout the day.