‘Explosive’ California wildfire forces thousands to evacuate

Courtesy of CBS Newspath

VENTURA COUNTY, Ca. — Ferocious winds in Southern California have whipped up an explosive wildfire which quickly tripled in size, forcing the evacuation of thousands of homes and knocking out power to thousands more.

The Ventura County Fire Department confirmed late Monday night that one death was associated with the menacing Thomas Fire; a person killed in a vehicle accident blamed on the blaze.

Fire officials said the fire broke out Monday east of Santa Paula, which is about 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The flames reached nearly eight square miles just hours later, and by early Tuesday morning, it had swollen in size to almost 48 square miles.

Fire crews said they were unable to begin fighting the aggressive blaze overnight, leaving it zero percent contained as day broke on the West Coast.

So far, fire officials estimate 150 structures have been destroyed and that number is likely to go up.

Multiple homes in the area of Scenic Way Drive in Ventura could be seen burning from the air. In downtown Ventura, the Hawaiian Village apartment complex was engulfed in flames.

As of 1:50 a.m., 7,786 homes in Ventura County were under mandatory evacuation as the blaze closed in on downtown Ventura, where multiple structures were reportedly burning. Fire officials said 27,000 people were evacuated from their residences.

Vista del Mar Hospital, a behavioral health care facility in Ventura, was razed to the ground by the blaze. All patients and staff were evacuated Monday night. The fire continued to burn west “out of control,” according to fire officials, due to strong east winds that grounded aerial flight crews overnight. One firefighter was injured while battling the blaze. Around 500 firefighters were battling the blaze and fixed-wing aircraft as well as helicopters were being prepared to launch to attack the flames at daybreak.

Ventura County fire officials said structures throughout the fire area continued to be threatened. Structure protection operations were in place, but fire officials said crews were having trouble accessing some areas due to the intensity of the flames.

According to Ventura County fire officials, mandatory evacuations were ordered in some areas.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.