The Springs fire made a harrowing about-face Friday afternoon after a shift in winds sent the blaze roaring inland, placing some homes that had escaped the first wave of flames again in the fire's path.
Officials said flames crept within 100 feet of homes in Hidden Valley as the fire -- last measured at 10,000 acres -- continued to scorch the rugged terrain between Pacific Coast Highway and the 101 Freeway. More than 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft flying through thick smoke to drop water and flame retardant.
Residents in Hidden Valley and off Portrero Road have been ordered to evacuate. Evacuations in Sycamore Canyon, Deer Canyon and Yerba Buena remained in effect, Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash said.
Nick Schuler, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's San Diego division, said the homes most susceptible are those that haven't regularly cleared brush hundreds of feet away from their home as county firefighters suggest.
“We’re in the middle of a lot of structure defense,” Schuler said.
In addition to the 1,000-plus firefighters on the scene, Schuler said hundreds more are en route to the area. The latest tally from Cal Fire said 4,000 homes and 300 commercial properties have been threatened, with 15 residences, 15 outbuildings and five commercial properties damaged.
The Hidden Valley area includes numerous luxury ranch homes, including many with stables housing horses and other animals.
Sue Martin and Coleman Trainor thought the danger has passed Shelburne Farm on Portrero Road, but then they noticed the winds change. When the neighboring ranch began evacuating animals about 2 p.m., they decided they should start to make plans for the 20 horses stabled on their own property.
They worried how they would transport so many animals – but then the trailers starting rolling in. Complete strangers showed up at the ranch, offering their help.
“This is our third load,” said Lisa Riley, who helped take the horses to a Moorpark equestrian center. “We do this for them because they need the help, and I’m sure they’d do it for us.”
Trainor, who is from Virginia, had never seen a wildfire before. “It’s been really exciting to see the collaboration and assistance from people we don’t even know,” he said. “All of that has helped contribute to a successful evacuation. And now we’ve gotta go.”
Residents hurried to pack cars and evacuate animals as the fire again moved toward their homes. In the Rancho Sierra Vista area, helicopters hurried to drop water on a burning ridge as neighbors in the nearby Banyan neighborhood readied to leave.
Laurie Deremer, 58, looked at the flames and smoke peeking over the ridge. "Well, this looks a little ominous here," she said.
A neighbor, Bobbie Quigley, had already loaded her car with a small filing cabinet full of pictures and a safe with documents and address books. A pile of blankets sat next to her car and she readied to pack more valuables.
Quigley, 71, said she could hear people driving up Potrero Road behind her house all night to get a glimpse of the fires. People also sat on her back wall to get a better look.
She could barely sleep, she said, but finally caught some rest about 4 a.m. When she woke up at 6 a.m., she said, "it was all very calm."
The evacuation orders came hours later.
Shari Bernath didn't leave her ranch off Mipolomoi Road, despite orders Thursday night and Friday to evacuate. The flames climbed the mountain toward her home, eventually reaching one of her barns and creeping within 100 yards of her home.
By about 3 p.m., the flames were in the distance and the view was replaced with the gray and black smoke of a danger that had moved elsewhere."There's a lot of relief," Bernath said. "We could still burn. But there's a lot of relief."