Residents watched warily, their packed cars at the ready, as a growing 2,000-acre fire crept closer to hundreds of homes in Newbury Park and Camarillo.
“We’re packed and ready to go,” said Jan Moore. “But we’re just hoping they can protect this area here.”
Moore has lived in the Dos Vientos neighborhood for 10 years, but hadn’t decided whether to evacuate. Her street was mostly empty as wind whipped the trees and gardens. Heavy smoke hung in the area.
The police called Moore’s home to tell them to evacuate, but her husband was reluctant to leave. She stood in the middle of the street, looking dazed, as helicopters flew overhead.
“I feel a little numb right now,” she said.
Tin Sein, 69, a retiree, was standing outside chatting with his neighbors, with his car also packed and ready to go. He and his wife, Yin, were hesitant to leave.
“We’re being watchful,” he said as he peered toward the ridge where the fire continued to burn. “It’s not like we’re being reckless, we’ll leave if we need to.”
When asked how long he’d be willing to stay, he said “until the police come and knock.”
Firefighters are focused on protecting hundreds of homes as the Springs fire moves toward Newbury Park and the Camarillo Springs area, Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tom Kruschke said. But officials are also preparing in case the blaze moves toward Pacific Coast Highway -- a possibility within "the potential of the fire," Kruschke said.
But with strong Santa Ana winds, low humidity and high temperatures -- not to mention the amount of fuel in the area -- Kruschke said it was hard to say where the flames might go.
"It's very unpredictable. Winds are swirling and twisting, and we don't know what way it's going to turn," he said. "We're kind of at Mother Nature's mercy at this point."
Crews from multiple agencies are attacking the blaze, which flared about 6:30 a.m. Thursday along the Conjeo Grade of the freeway and has scorched more than 2,000 acres in a valley between between Camarillo and Newbury Park. In addition to numerous motor homes burning in a parking lot, video footage from KTLA showed a flareup near one home.
Evacuations were ordered for the Dos Vientos neighborhood of Newbury Park, the Camarillo Springs area of Camarillo, Cal State Channel Islands and the area south of Potrero Road to Pacific Coast Highway.
Newbury Park High School evacuated its campus shortly after 10:30 a.m. Thursday, citing air quality as the primary factor. While the fire was still burning far away from campus, a large number of students either did not show up or were picked up by their parents because of the fire, leading school authorities to shutter classes for the day.
The Red Cross has set up evacuation centers at the Thousand Oaks Community Park, 2525 N. Moorpark Road, and Camarillo's Calvary Community Chapel, 380 Mobil Ave.
Kruschke said crews were not immediately able to confirm structure damage, but said they were battling spot fires as the wind pushed embers into residential areas.
Stuart Seto, a specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, said humidity had dropped significantly in the area – “from 80% down into the teens, and they’re getting lower.” That, coupled with “extreme” wind gusts, would likely make Thursday “the worst day as far as the fires,” Seto said.
“This is really dry,” he said. “The fire in Camarillo Springs really jumped up from nothing to 100 acres in no time at all.”
Winds are blowing southwest directly toward the homes at a sustained 26 mph, Seto said, with peak wind at 47 mph.
Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash said the combination of wind and hot temperatures were a "perfect recipe for a fire."
"We advise anybody in the area to be prepared. Wildfires are very unpredictable -- we don't know what direction it's going to go," Nash said. "We really want people to be prepared. It's better to do it now before a sheriff's deputy is knocking on your door."
Peggy Castillo, 53, said she could see flames Thursday morning from her porch on Havenside Avenue in Newbury Park. Although an evacuation order had not yet been issued for her street, Castillo said with her daughter’s help, she had loaded two cars full of valuables in case she needed to flee.
“If the wind shifts, it’s just right there,” she said. “It’s kind of blowing towards the ocean, so that’s good for us.”
Aaron Dvoretzky watched a helicopter fill with water from a pond as he walked his dog Thursday morning. His car was ready to go, he said -- packed with water, crates for the animals and important papers.
"If it happens, it happens," he said. "When it comes down to it, if the people are safe, then everything else are just things."