Explosive wildfires in Southern California force thousands to evacuate

At least two wind-whipped wildfires exploded early Tuesday in Southern California, forcing more than 27,000 people to evacuate and scorching thousands of acres.

Ventura County Fire officials said the larger blaze, known as the  “Thomas Fire,” broke out Monday evening east of Santa Paula, located about 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The fire has grown to 45,000 acres and has destroyed 150 structures, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference. “Really, Mother Nature is going to decide when we have the ability to put it out because it is pushing hard with the wind.”

The Thomas Fire rages on the side of a hill early Tuesday in Ventura County, Calif  (VCFD PIO)

After initial reports of a fatality, county fire Capt. Steve Kaufmann said a dead dog but no person was found in an overturned car. Lorenzen said  at a news conference Tuesday a battalion fire chief was injured in a car crash, but not seriously hurt.

There is zero percent containment of the fire, officials said. A total of 1,000 firefighters are battling the fire, and power outages have been reported in Santa Paula, Camarillo, Ventura and Santa Barbara.

Southern California Edison said nearly 180,000 customers in the Ventura County area were without service.

Ventura County Fire Public Information Officer Rick Macklin told Fox News around 8,700 homes have been evacuated so far, and fire crews are making night time water drops in Ventura to fight the blaze.

The fire is currently burning chaparral, a brush that has not burned in 20 years. The cause of the fire is undetermined.

“The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Lorenzen said. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people, and protect structures.”

Authorities say Ventura, a city of over 100,000 people 12 miles away, is expected to feel the effects of the fire soon. Thomas Aquinas College, a school with about 350 students, has also been evacuated.

Evacuation shelters have been set up at the Miners Building at the Ventura County Fairgrounds and Nordhoff High School, FOX11 Los Angeles reported.

Downtown is darkened by a power outage with smoke rising in the distance in Santa Paula, California  (REUTERS/David McNew)

Residents located outside the evacuation zone watched the blaze shift along the nearby hills overnight, and debated whether they should stay or go.

“I just hope we’re all right,” Taylor Penny told the Los Angeles Times.

The burned remains of crashed cars are seen at night on a country road as strong winds push the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres near Santa Paula, California, December 5, 2017.  (REUTERS/David McNew)

Nearby, Eddie Barragan and his wife Maria told the LA Times they were watching the fire for hours they wanted inside their home.

Barragan, who told the newspaper he was an iron worker who worked as a wildlife firefighter, was studying the flames and paying attention to how the wind shifted.

“If it comes over this next ridge, or the wind shifts, it takes one ember to get on one of these houses, and there it goes,” he told the LA Times.

As firefighters battled the “Thomas Fire,” a second blaze broke out around 40 miles east the north edge of Los Angeles that is threatening portions of the Sylmar and Lakeview Terrace neighborhoods and charring more than 2,500 acres, according to FOX11.

The “Creek Fire” started in Sylmar early Tuesday and grew quickly overnight.  (Hermila Flores)

The “Creek Fire” was first reported as a 100-acre fire but quickly grew, Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said. There were mandatory evacuations issued for nearby areas as red flag and high wind warnings continue in the area.

The National Weather Service said winds of 43 mph with gusts over 60 mph have been reported in the area, and are expected to continue throughout the day.

“Damaging #SantaAnaWinds and very critical fire weather conditions today and again late Wed night-Thu,” the weather service said on Twitter. “Main impacts include downed trees/powerlines, blowing dust, power outages, and very rapid fire spread.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.