Multiple fires are raging in Southern California. A series of Santa Ana wind-driven wildfires have destroyed hundreds of structures, forced thousands to flee and smothered the region with smoke in what officials predicted would be a pitched battle for days.

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Despite lull, a reminder that evacuation orders are still in effect in Ojai

Fire crews hose down hot spots on North Rice Road in Ojai. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Fire crews hose down hot spots on North Rice Road in Ojai. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

One of Ventura County’s most prominent politicians, former Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury, walked into the Ojai police station Thursday, frustrated after days of living out of his car and monitoring the shifting Thomas fire.

Bradbury, wearing aviator glasses as he leaned on his cane, said he had fled to the Ventura County Fairgrounds earlier this week with about half of his horses — he sits on the fairgrounds board, after all — but wanted to return to his ranch in Ojai. The retired D.A., who held the position for more than two decades, just didn’t know where the fire was or whether the threat was still real.

City Manager Steve McClary sympathized with Bradbury’s frustration. “The problem with giving specifics of the fire: It could change in five minutes,” McClary said. 

Bradbury said he understood, but later asked to speak to Police Chief James Fryhoff. The former D.A. asked the chief how the deputies were faring and pressed for details about when he may return.

“I would give it at least another day,” Fryhoff told Bradbury.

The city of Ojai has been largely spared structural damage from the fire, but some homes along Highway 33 north of the city limit have been leveled.

On Thursday, the sky south of Ojai was relatively clear and blue. To the north, where fire burned Wednesday night along the mountain ridge, the sky was gray and smoky. 

Some at the city’s evacuation shelter at Nordhoff High School were growing restless as the days dragged on. Fryhoff acknowledged the cabin fever. But, he cautioned, the lull in the firefight Thursday morning — when some residents who had been evacuated had returned to their homes to see blackened hillsides but less damage than they feared — did not mean the coast was clear. Thursday night and Friday could bring more treacherous conditions.

“We’re all waiting for a wind event that we’re told is going to come,” Fryhoff said. “If we do get that, the fire could be unpredictable.” 

Mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect for those north of Grand Avenue, and some sheriff’s deputies drove through the hilly neighborhood on Thursday, urging residents to heed the order despite the apparent calm. 

“Hang back. We mean it,” Fryhoff said.

McClary said that once the risk abates, residents in the Ojai Valley will be told when they can return.

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