Hundreds of firefighters worked overnight to gain control of a brush fire that tore through Simi Valley on Wednesday, burning homes and forcing thousands to flee amid raging Santa Ana winds.
The Easy fire grew slightly overnight, reaching 1,723 acres, and was 10% contained by Thursday morning. Despite strong winds overnight, crews were able to hold fire lines in place, stopping the blaze from spreading into adjacent communities, said Mike DesForges, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.
That progress brought relief for residents eager to return to their homes. By midmorning Thursday, officials had lifted all mandatory evacuations affecting some 26,000 Simi Valley, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks residents.
DesForges said crews would work throughout the day to put out hot spots still smoldering in thick brush. Strong winds are still a major concern, so strike teams have been stationed in neighborhoods to keep an eye on the fire line.
“If there’s hot spots that break out, they’ll go in and handle that,” DesForges said.
At the height of the fire, roughly 7,000 homes were in harm’s way.
The fire broke out about 6 a.m. Wednesday at Easy Street and Madera Road and quickly spread south, threatening the Ronald Presidential Reagan Library. Flames lapped the brush just outside the 125,000-square-foot facility, where Reagan’s Air Force One plane is perched behind glass.
“Unfortunately it was about the worst time it could happen — 40-mile-an-hour sustained winds and fuels that were ripe and ready to carry fire,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said Wednesday.
As winds gusted to 60 mph, helicopters and “super scooper” aircraft dropped gallons of water over the land in a precarious attempt to contain the fire’s spread. Simi Valley police directed residents via loudspeaker to leave the neighborhood behind the library.
“One thing is sure,” resident Rory Kaplan said. “They aren’t going to let Reagan’s library burn — and that protects us.”
Sure enough, the library was not damaged.
Three firefighters were injured and two structures were destroyed in the blaze. Southern California Edison confirmed Wednesday evening that the fire broke out in its service territory near one of its subtransmission lines, which was not de-energized at the time of the eruption. The exact cause of the fire has not been determined.
Not all evacuees were human. One of the most widely shared videos from the fire showed a horse running into the smoke to apparently retrieve a colt and another horse, which many surmised to be the animal’s family. Flames could be seen nearby as thick smoke swirled around the trio. The horse whipped its head and rounded the two others as the group trotted toward safety. A fourth horse was seen not far behind.
Incredible video of a horse going back to rescue two more horses from the fire caught by @CBSLA @joybenedict and her crew. You'll see this and more on the @CBSEveningNews with @NorahODonnell tonight and continuing on @CBSLA and @CBSNLive pic.twitter.com/2reAZhunDe— George Whipple Jr. (@gwhipp) October 30, 2019
The equestrian community routinely comes together during fires. Dozens of neighbors helped evacuate panicked horses as the Easy fire raged.
Fighting the fire was complicated by strong winds, which have helped spark several blazes throughout the state. In the Sepulveda Pass, the Getty fire continued to burn, joined by the newly ignited 46 fire in Jurupa Valley and the Hillside fire in San Bernardino.
By Halloween morning, L.A. County smelled like a bonfire, and the city skyline was blanketed by a smoky haze.
Chandler Collins, 23, said his grandmother awoke him early Wednesday at their Simi Valley home to evacuate. He quickly packed a bag, that included his Halloween costume in case he couldn’t make it back in time to retrieve for the holiday.
“I’ve never done this before, but it’s probably going to happen more often,” he said of the evacuations.