Unseasonably high temperatures and Santa Ana winds created dangerous fire conditions across Ventura County on Tuesday, contributing to a couple of small blazes that officials said could have been much worse.
While the 87 degrees recorded in downtown Ventura was 10 degrees below the record high of 97 in 1956, the combination of dry, hot air and strong winds had fire officials braced.
A five-acre brush fire burned across an abandoned avocado farm near the Rancho Matilija housing development in Ojai late Tuesday morning.
At one point, 70 firefighters, five engines, a water tender and a helicopter fought the blaze, which began when a spark from a farm tool caught fire in the dry underbrush, Ventura County Fire Department Capt. Bob Howell said.
“The grass is so dry out here, it doesn’t take a lot to get things going,” Howell said.
While ground crews were putting out the last smoking areas of the Ojai blaze, a one-acre grass fire broke out about 3:30 p.m. in Toland Park, east of Santa Paula.
The fire was contained quickly, a Ventura County Fire Department spokeswoman said, and no major damage was reported.
Temperatures were expected to drop today and to get cooler through the end of the week, National Weather Service Meteorologist Terry Schaeffer said.
The hot Santa Ana winds that swept through the area earlier this week were weakening by Tuesday afternoon, and meteorologists said the coast’s predominant west winds should kick in by today.
While the high temperatures and Santa Ana winds added up to dangerous fire conditions, the eastern winds blew much of the area’s pollutants out to sea, contributing to a clear, almost pollution-free day, local meteorologists said.
The reversal of the wind pattern could blow pollutants back on shore, setting the county up for a smog problem later in the week.
Kent Field, Ventura County Air Pollution Control District meteorologist, said Tuesday afternoon that it is too early to predict whether the pollutants will disperse at sea or come onshore as a mass.