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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'The fire is here and wrapped around' Ojai, official says as crews prepare to defend the mountain town

Smoke from the Thomas fire crosses over the dry Ventura River in Ojai. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
Smoke from the Thomas fire crosses over the dry Ventura River in Ojai. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Fire crews are preparing to defend Ojai — the bucolic mountain town known as a haven for spiritual seekers, health enthusiasts and celebrities — from the fast-moving blaze that destroyed portions of Ventura, an official said Wednesday afternoon.

“The fire is here and wrapped around the community,” said Shane Lauderdale, a Cal Fire branch director as he huddled with other officials in a downtown parking lot.

With a map of the Ojai Valley spread over the hood of a crew vehicle and ashes falling around him, Lauderdale said that more equipment and firefighters are being rushed into the area south and east of the town.

“We’re taking advantage of the current calm to concentrate resources along a defensive line,” he said.

Crews are moving heavy equipment to meet the fire on the edge of town while hand crews are cutting firebreaks.

“We’re going to get a lot more work done today,” Lauderdale said.

The fire threat is considered dire until Friday, when punishing Santa Ana winds are expected to abate, but Ojai City Manager Steve McClary said, “Until we have fog drifting in from the west and light rain, we won’t feel like this thing is behind us.”

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