Springs fire burns 28,000 acres but now 60% contained


Aided by cooling temperatures, the massive Springs fire in Ventura County has slowed considerably overnight and is now 60% contained, Cal Fire reported Sunday.

The fire has burned 28,000 acres. Because of minimal fire activity, Cal Fire said in a statement, “there is an increase in demobilization of firefighting resources.”

Though the blaze has damaged 15 homes and five commercial buildings, no residences have been destroyed and no injuries have been reported, officials said.


PHOTOS: Springs fire

Compared with Thursday and Friday — when fire raced through Ventura County hillsides, causing officials to call for the evacuation of about 5,000 residents — Saturday was relatively calm for firefighters and residents in the most heavily threatened areas, neighborhoods full of multimillion-dollar ranch homes near Thousand Oaks and Camarillo.

By late afternoon, as the air continued to cool, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Fernando Herrera said officials expected to have full containment by Monday.

“This is good,” said Herrera, looking up at fog rolling inland on ocean breezes. “This is what we want.”

Earlier in the day, fearing a replay of a 1993 inferno that crept from hillsides and destroyed 53 homes, crews focused their efforts on keeping the blaze from reaching neighborhoods on the rural western edges of Thousand Oaks. From a vantage point near Potrero Road and Wendy Drive, light wisps of smoke could be seen rising from a distance into the sky, but nothing more. As firefighters monitored the smoke, residents calmly snapped photographs.

“The activity has dropped dramatically,” said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Mike Parkes, who like most of his colleagues also noted a dropoff in the blaze’s intensity, largely because of the sudden weather change.

MAP: Southern California fires

Temperatures in the coastal areas near the fire dipped Saturday into the 60s and 70s, falling from unseasonable highs that had climbed toward the 90s on Thursday, when the blaze began near Thousand Oaks. Along with the cooler weather, winds weakened and humidity levels began rising to near 70% from a low of 5% earlier in the week, according to Scott Sukup, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

A 50% chance of rain is projected Sunday and Monday in the area, said Sukup, adding that his agency has ended the red-flag alert announced earlier in the week that warned of increased fire danger throughout much of the region.

On the western outskirts of Thousand Oaks on Saturday, as fire crews attempted to use controlled burns in an effort to ensure containment of the blaze, residents in nearby neighborhoods watched from their properties.

“With all these guys out here, it’s pretty safe,” said Charles Ash, 57, who owns a large property close to the containment line that fire crews were working on near Potrero Road. Ash said that on Friday he had started preparing to help fight the fire himself, pulling out hoses that attach to hydrants on his property and readying wet burlap sacks in case he needed to snuff out hot embers. Eventually, he got his two sons out of school to help if necessary. “We needed everyone we could get,” he said.

On Saturday, Ash felt more confident but wasn’t ready to fully drop his guard. “We’re not putting away those hoses until Monday afternoon,” he said.

The potential for a devastating blaze became clear early in the week, when Cal Fire authorities and meteorologists determined that ominous weather patterns were setting up over Southern California: hot Santa Ana winds, unseasonably high temperatures reaching the 90s and low humidity.

Cal Fire authorities dispatched hundreds of firefighters from across the state to Ventura County. Firefighters and additional ground personnel were also deployed from Oregon, Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico.

“We knew big fires were imminent; we just didn’t know where,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Nick Schuler said.

Early in the week, nearly 3,000 acres burned near Riverside. Another blaze has torched 6,700 acres in Northern California and continues to burn. On Friday, five fires were reported in San Diego County and another on Saturday in steep forestland in Riverside County south of Banning.