From Ventura to Thousand Oaks, from Ojai to Santa Cruz Island, brush fires erupted in spurts throughout the year, charring thousands of acres and bearing witness to the drought with miles-high monuments of smoke.
Unlike nearby Santa Barbara, however, where 567 houses were destroyed in a June blaze, Ventura County did not lose a single home to brush fires in 1990. Officials credited an aggressive county program to force residents to clear brush away from homes.
The largest blazes occurred in mid-October, when hot, dry Santa Ana winds sent flames roaring up the hills north and south of Santa Paula and east of Fillmore, covering 2,200 acres with cinders and ashes. Another spate of fires broke out in late June and early July, charring 119 acres in Thousand Oaks, 280 acres above Fillmore, 585 acres north of Ojai and 600 acres on Santa Cruz Island.
Nearly all of the blazes were blamed on arsonists, none of whom were arrested. It was also the year of the most costly residential fire in the county’s history, a spectacular $7-million November blaze accidentally triggered by a plumber’s torch. The fire destroyed 22 apartment buildings under construction in Thousand Oaks.
Even if the area gets lots of rain this winter, fire officials say 1991 could be a bad year for brush fires. Heavy rains would cover the hillsides with grass, they say, but it would eventually dry up and help spread fire among bone-dry trees and other vegetation. The only solution, they say, is to renew growth in the larger plants. That will take several good rainy seasons.