Fast-Moving Fire Threatens Citrus Crops in Southern California

Flames from a backfire consume a hillside as firefighters battle the Maria Fire in Santa Paula, Calif., on Friday. According to Ventura County Fire Department, the blaze has scorched more than 8,000 acres and destroyed at least two structures. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

(CN) – A wildfire burning across ridgetops in Southern California ballooned to over 8,000 acres Thursday night – though the winds that pushed the blaze showed signs of relenting Friday morning.

The Maria Fire broke after 6 p.m. Thursday on a ridgeline above the city of Santa Paula in Ventura County, not far from where the devastating 2017 Thomas Fire started. Fanned by strong easterly winds, the blaze doubled in size overnight.

John McNeal with the Ventura County Fire Department said the Maria Fire began on ridges that run above multiple communities. The good news, according to fire officials, is the blaze could eventually run out of dry brush and burn itself out.

“I want to assure you this is not the Thomas Fire,” said McNeal. “We’re looking at probably 12,000 acres as the biggest footprint on this.”

By Friday afternoon, the blaze had grown to 8,730 acres, Firefighters focused on keeping the fire from spreading to Santa Paula.

Courthouse News correspondent Julianna Krokak said she saw smoke on her drive home Thursday night and then saw the flames as she approached her home.

Krokak said the image of the Thomas Fire is still fresh in the minds of many people who live in the area.

“It’s still a major concern for all of us. Many people still have PTSD from that whole episode,” said Krokak, who added that her utility company Southern California Edison has notified customers they may lose power.

“The wind is not blowing as hard as it has been in the last few days. We can’t smell the smoke, but we can clearly see the flames,” Krokak said Thursday night.

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Approximately 7,500 residents fled their homes overnight and 1,800 buildings and homes are threatened in the communities of Camarillo, Somis, Santa Paula and East Ventura. Schools in the area are closed on Friday.

Firefighters had to temporarily ground their air response Thursday evening because someone flew a drone over the fire area, according to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub.

“It’s not only illegal, but it hampers our firefighting efforts,” said Ayub.

As of Friday morning, the fire was at zero containment. Crews battling the blaze have prioritized structures, power lines, radio towers and avocado and citrus groves.

The Maria Fire comes just days after the Easy Fire broke out in eastern Ventura County. That blaze grew to 1,860 acres in the Simi Valley area and is now 80% contained. At one point, the fire threatened to burn the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

Dry winds are expected to continue in the Ventura County area through Friday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

Meanwhile across Southern California, a wildfire destroyed six foothill homes in San Bernardino on Thursday. The Hillside Fire grew to 200 acres fanned by strong winds but is now 80% contained. In Los Angeles, the Getty Fire destroyed 12 homes after by a tree branch fell onto a power line. That fire is 66% contained and evacuation orders for the affluent neighborhoods impacted by the blaze have been lifted.

About 400 miles north in Sonoma County, the Kincade Fire has devoured nearly 78,000 acres and is 68% contained according to Cal Fire. Sparked Oct. 23, the blaze has destroyed over 350 buildings and homes and damaged 55 others. Nearly 5,000 firefighters have battled this blaze, California’s largest in 2019.

All Sonoma County courthouses remained closed Friday.

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