Though it was almost 1 a.m., drivers parked and pulled off the road in Newbury Park, struck by the orange glow of a fire that torched the earth in front of them.
While the raging Springs fire that has burned more than 8,000 acres headed west, it was a less important backfire in the Santa Monica Mountains that captivated residents, passersby and journalists. Dozens of onlookers came and went. Most stood off a main road near an entrance to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and stared at the charred land.
Firefighters were using controlled burns late Thursday night to prevent flames from turning back toward homes in Ventura County. The Springs fire damaged at least 15 homes and threatened 2,000, the Ventura County Fire Department said.
Late Thursday, firefighters were igniting unburned brush along a jagged front in the Santa Monica Mountains south of Potrero Road, officials said.
The area was adjacent to a zone that had been scorched earlier in the day as the Springs fire was fanned by powerful Santa Ana winds, Ventura County sheriff’s Deputy Cyrus Zadeh told the Los Angeles Times.
Crews were also lighting backfires in the Dos Vientos area, hoping to make some headway before warm weather and high winds begin Friday.
“It’s hot, dirty, unglamorous work right now,” Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash told reporters.
But to some, it was also unnecessary.
Ed and Kate Cruz were among the many gawkers drawn by the backfire in the mountains. The family lives nearby and hikes there multiple times a week. So, for them, watching the controlled burn was like watching a favorite treehouse burn.
“Picnic Oak,” Kate said, in reference to “an oak tree we like that goes perfectly over a picnic table. It’s just beautiful. Beautiful birds, owls, wolves.
“It’s a sad day.”
Her husband was more blunt.
“This place is going to be a lunar landscape tomorrow morning,” Ed said. “Making the backfire this big -- they will burn the entire canyon."