A day of cool, dry Santa Ana winds that graced Southern California with panoramic, postcard views also also put firefighters to work Wednesday, stirring fears that more fires could be expected today as humidity levels remain low.
A fast-moving wildfire pushed by 25-m.p.h. winds consumed 150 acres of brush-covered hills in Thousand Oaks and evoked fears of disaster before more than 275 firefighters from Ventura and Los Angeles counties contained the blaze.
Elsewhere, firefighters battled smaller fires in Torrance and Lopez Canyon near the city of San Fernando, as Santa Ana conditions pushed humidity levels to lows of 10% in Burbank and San Bernardino. Normal humidity levels in those areas exceed 30% at this time of year.
Winds were clocked from 20 to 40 m.p.h. throughout the region, with gusts reaching up to an estimated 60 m.p.h. in some canyons, said Steve Burback of WeatherData Inc., which provides weather information to The Times.
The National Weather Service issued wind advisories for Southern California mountain and desert areas, warning that trailers and other large vehicles are susceptible to accidents in gusty weather.
Winds were expected to ease somewhat today. Temperatures were cool on Wednesday--with a high of 71 degrees downtown. Slightly warmer days and cooler nights are expected in the days to come, Burback said.
The lip-chapping, throat-parching weather primes the terrain for wildfires by removing moisture from grass and brush, firefighters say.
“This time of year we start seeing the Santa Ana winds, and even though it’s not hot in a lot of cases, it’s very dry,” said Inspector Joel Harrison of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The Thousand Oaks blaze broke out at 10:46 a.m. in an open field near North Ranch and threatened a 120-unit condominium complex before it was contained shortly after 2 p.m. At one point, residents stood under a rain of ash and smoke, gathering their belongings to leave.
“It looked like it was night, it was so dark,” said Maria Day, 26, who bundled clothes and her 3-year-old son, Brody, into her truck.
Ventura County authorities, who never ordered an evacuation, said they were not worried that the fire would sweep through neighborhoods because of strict enforcement of ordinances requiring landowners to clear brush.
Ventura County fire officials traced the cause of the blaze to a stolen pickup truck. The vehicle’s catalytic converter apparently ignited grass, authorities said. No structures were lost and there were no injuries reported.