By Christine Mai-Duc, Catherine Saillant and Kate Mather
9:48 AM PDT, May 3, 2013
The cost of battling the Springs fire in Ventura County has already hit $1.6 million as more than 1,000 firefighters descend on the rugged wilderness, the Ventura County Fire Department said.
Overnight and Friday morning, the focus has been on protecting the few homes where the fire is burning -- mainly off Yerba Buena Road and Sycamore Canyon Road.
Ventura County Fire Department spokeswoman Lori Ross said the fire is blowing south of Sycamore Canyon, along Pacific Coast Highway and headed toward the Los Angeles County line.
But the winds, so far, are cooperating.
“It’s different today,” Ross said. “But hopefully it won’t get all weird again at 2 or 3.”
That’s when weather forecasters say that offshore winds could shift onshore and pose a new threat.
Three fixed-wing aircraft and three helicopters are dropping water and fire retardant, trying to protect the structures interspersed among the dry brush.
“There are some big beautiful homes up there,” Ross said. “But so far, they’re doing a good job of protecting them.”
In Camarillo, Sandra and Bill Schwartz stopped to thank the firefighters they saw at their hotel Friday morning.
The two were forced out of their Camarillo Springs mobile home Thursday, grabbing important papers and family photos in the 10 minutes they took to pack. They watched as mobile homes burned on the ridge above theirs, the "bang, bang, bang" of propane tanks exploding.
Driving away, "you could look back and the whole mountain was in flames," Sandra Schwartz said. "I had already accepted the fact that our house were gone."
But the couple was allowed back into their home two other times throughout the day, begging firefighters to let them gather heart medication, changes of clothes, two pillows. On the last trip, the house was "so full of smoke we couldn't stand it," Sandra Schwartz said.
"The place looked like a graveyard," she said.
They could have stayed at their home, but were told they'd have to be ready to leave within five minutes if the flames came back. "We can't sleep that way," Bill Schwartz said, so they opted for the hotel.
Friday morning they were heading back home to air out their smoke-choked home. But, they said, they're relieved it's still there.
"It's like a miracle," Sandra Schwartz said. "We are so grateful. We are so lucky."
The growing 10,000-acre Springs fire, which started before 7 a.m. Thursday, is 10% contained and has burned from Camarillo south of the 101 Freeway all the way to Pacific Coast Highway, leaving 15 damaged buildings and several motorhomes destroyed in its wake.
Four thousand homes were threatened, fire officials said. About 1,000 firefighters were on scene.
On Friday morning, winds continued to push the flames southwest as they did Thursday when single-digit humidity, temperatures in the high 90s and wind gusts of more than 40 mph fed the fire that consumed dry, decades-old brush.
The winds will not be as strong Friday, but other conditions are similar. The humidity near the fire has dropped from 58% to 28% in an hour and is expected to be under 10% in the next few hours, said National Weather Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan.
Temperatures will climb into the 90s while wind gusts of up to 30 mph will continue to feed the flames, he said.
An ocean breeze is expected to hit the face of the fire by afternoon.
Ventura County fire spokesman Bill Nash said Thursday that an inland breeze will either push the flames into themselves, aiding 1,000 firefighters trying to contain it, or it could push the fire into unburned brush deeper in the mountains.
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