As firefighters worked Thursday to get a handle on blazes across Southern California, fierce winds sparked new fires, including one in Ventura County that quickly exploded to 7,400 acres as it raced toward homes late in the evening.
The blaze, dubbed the Maria fire, broke out atop South Mountain, just south of Santa Paula, about 6:15 p.m., the Ventura County Fire Department said. Evacuation orders were issued for a swath of residences as firefighters tried to keep the flames from spreading north toward Santa Paula and south toward Somis.
Earlier Thursday, the Hillside fire tore into neighborhoods in north San Bernardino. The fire erupted about 1:40 a.m. near Highway 18 at Lower Waterman Canyon and took off, quickly burning downhill into neighborhoods as authorities rushed to awaken and evacuate residents. The blaze had consumed 200 acres and burned six homes as of Thursday evening, fire officials said. Firefighters had boosted containment to 50%.
In Jurupa Valley, a fire sparked by a late-night police pursuit that ended in a crash quickly spread to 300 acres, damaging several buildings and prompting Riverside County officials to declare a state of emergency. The wind-driven blaze, which was named the 46 fire, was reported at 12:39 a.m. and was pushed by gusts reaching 25 mph, according to law enforcement and weather officials. It was also 50% contained as of Thursday night.
The fire originated in a field in the 4800 block of Crestmore Road after a police pursuit ended in a vehicle crash, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The pursuit began shortly after midnight after Riverside police identified the car as stolen, authorities said. Officers tried to stop the vehicle, but the driver and a passenger sped off.
As the car neared the field on Crestmore, it jumped several curbs and blew out its tires, said Officer Ryan Railsback, spokesman for the Riverside Police Department. The car broke down in a field, and investigators believe that heat from its wheels ignited the fire. Flames engulfed the car, then the field, before spreading to the Santa Ana riverbed, police said.
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Two men were arrested in connection with the incident.
Bryan Anguiano, 23, of Jurupa Valley was booked into Robert Presley Detention Center on suspicion of felony evading, car theft and possession of a stolen vehicle, along with an outstanding felony warrant for burglary and false impersonation, the Riverside Police Department said in a news release. Authorities also plan to charge him with arson violations stemming from the fire, police said.
Kevin Hidalgo, 28, of Riverside was arrested on an outstanding felony warrant for allegedly violating conditions of a post-release community supervision program, police said.
Evacuation orders stemming from the fires in Jurupa Valley and San Bernardino had been lifted by Thursday evening.
The blazes erupted after several days of strong Santa Ana winds and rock-bottom relative humidity that prompted the National Weather Service to issue a rare “extreme red-flag warning.”
The gusts were expected to ease Thursday night, but critical fire weather warnings were extended through Friday night for the windiest spots of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, continuing red-flag conditions for an additional 24 hours.
The red-flag warnings — which sound the alarm for high winds, dry air and parched vegetation — will persist for inland mountains and valleys in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and for the Santa Clarita Valley because of ongoing winds from the northeast and very dry air. Other areas were expected to see red-flag warnings expire as gusts eased Thursday evening to 25 mph to 35 mph.
Meanwhile, firefighters continued to make progress on other fires burning around the state. The 1,800-acre Easy fire, which tore through Simi Valley on Wednesday, was 60% contained by Thursday evening. Despite strong winds, 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.
The breakdown was one of several things that went wrong in the battle against what would become the most destructive fire in modern L.A. County history.
The 34-acre Barham fire in Hollywood Hills near the Warner Bros. Studios lot in Burbank was 15% contained as of Sunday morning, the L.A. Fire Department said.
As catastrophic windblown blazes strike with more frequency, California’s system of mutual-aid firefighting is cracking, with fire chiefs sometimes reluctant or unable to assist their counterparts.
The Getty fire, which broke out Monday near the Getty Center and burned 12 homes and 745 acres, was 52% contained as of Thursday night. Most evacuation orders prompted by the fire had been lifted. Investigators believe the blaze was sparked when a tree branch hit a power line.
The Tick fire, which burned 29 homes in Canyon Country last week, is now 100% contained.
In Northern California, the Kincade fire that roared through Sonoma County wine country was 65% contained after burning more than 77,000 acres and nearly 350 structures.