A wildfire fanned by Santa Ana winds blackened 150 acres of brush-covered hillside Wednesday and came within 100 feet of a Thousand Oaks townhouse complex before firefighters got the upper hand.
About 300 firefighters from Ventura and Los Angeles counties were summoned to fight the blaze soon after it broke out at 10:46 a.m. in an open field near the North Ranch neighborhood. Firefighters used five helicopters and 22 firetrucks before the blaze was brought under control about 2 p.m.
Ventura County fire officials traced the cause of the blaze to a stolen pickup truck found, charred, on a dirt road. The burning truck ignited dry brush, and winds gusting to 25 m.p.h. pushed flames south toward the North Ranch Village complex, authorities said.
Officials said the county’s aggressive weed-abatement program helped firefighters subdue the blaze. They said weather conditions Wednesday were similar to those last week in Oakland and Berkeley, where a brush fire charred 2,700 homes and took at least 24 lives.
A crew headed by Ventura County Fire Battalion Chief Dale Miller was the first to reach the fire. Miller said the 15-man crew discovered a fast-moving, two-mile stretch of flames.
“The fire overran us on the ridge,” he said. “We had a lot of heat and a lot of wind.”
David Festerling, another battalion chief, said firefighters flanked the fire by bulldozing fire lines and stationing fire engines half a mile apart to offset the unpredictable winds.
“In this weather . . . the wind could have pushed it in any direction,” he said.
Although none of the 40 tiled-roofed town homes were ordered evacuated, authorities blocked off a half-mile stretch of Hillcrest Drive and Westlake Boulevard until about 2:30 p.m.
Before the fire was contained, concerned homeowners looked on from nearby sidewalks as ashes rained down on their property.
Amee Lamay clutched her 8-month-old baby, Danielle, as she watched the fire inch closer to her home.
“Those flames are definitely a scary sight,” she said as firefighters battled the blaze just a few hundred feet north of the cluster of town homes.
Many residents said they had visions of the Oakland and Berkeley hills fire.
“When I heard the fire alarm and looked out the window, all I could think about was Oakland Hills,” said Misty Yobs, 27, squeezing her dog, Charlie, against her chest.
“I looked around and, thank God, I found Charlie,” Yobs said. “I grabbed him and came outside.”
Her next-door neighbor, Frank Offberg, was busy hosing down his trees and garage door with water.
“The first thing that crossed my mind when I saw the flames was, if this fire jumps the fire line, we’re going to have another Oakland,” he said. “Thank God we have tiled roofs and stucco walls.”
Maria Day, 26, grabbed her 3-year-old son, Brody, and some photo albums before racing out of the North Ranch area in her Isuzu Trooper. “Oakland came to my mind, and that scared me to death,” she said.
After the fire was brought under control, a small crew of firefighters remained on the scene to prevent hot spots from flaring up during the night.
Firefighters said their jobs were made easier by Ventura County’s strict enforcement of the weed-abatement program, which requires landowners to clear brush at least 100 feet away from structures.
In addition, Thousand Oaks four years ago banned combustible wood-shake roofs in areas that could be threatened by brush fires, authorities said. The townhouses threatened Wednesday were completed in 1989 with tile roofs.
Because of low temperatures and high humidity, there have been few brush fires in Ventura County this year. Wednesday’s blaze raised acreage burned in brush fires in the county to 2,506, including 2,100 acres charred in an Ojai blaze earlier this month.