(VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.) — Thousands were forced to flee their homes on Monday as firefighters battled a fast-moving wildfire in Southern California that had charred at least 25,000 acres of land, authorities said.
Intensified by strong winds and harsh weather conditions, the fire caused at least one death in Ventura County, emergency officials said. The person’s identity was not released, but authorities attributed the death to an automobile accident that occurred as the individual attempted to evacuate.
The fire was impacting structures in downtown Ventura early Tuesday morning, with multiple residential homes on fire near City Hall.
About 650 residents were under mandatory evacuation in Ventura County as of early Tuesday morning as the wildfires moved southwest toward the coast. Officials said several thousand homes in nearby areas had been evacuated due to the fire, although they cautioned that the figure was a rough estimate.
“We urge you, you must abide by these evacuation notices,” Ventura County Sheriff Jeff Dean said at a press conference late Monday. “We saw the disasters and the losses that happened up north in Sonoma and this is a fast, very dangerous moving fire.”
Officials said the blaze started as a 50-acre brush fire in a foothills area east of Santa Paula — located about 40 minutes east of Santa Barbara — at around 6:30 p.m. Monday.
It multiplied in size to 10,000 acres in just four hours, authorities said. Santa Paula has a population of about 30,000.
Separately, Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, which has about 350 students, was evacuated Monday evening.
The fire, referred to as the Thomas Fire by authorities, knocked out power for more than 190,000 customers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, Southern California Edison said.
Firefighters in Ventura said they were dealing winds of between 25 and 50 mph, which they said made it impossible to fight the fire via aircraft. Officials said they planned to attack the fire by air at daybreak.
“The prospects for containment really are not good. Mother Nature is going to decide when we have the ability to put it out because it is pushing hard with the wind,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said Monday evening.
“As far as getting ahead of the fire, that’s exactly what we’re doing right now, but it’s in defense of structure and property right now, not actually trying to put the fire out,” he added.
About 500 firefighters were deployed to battle the blaze, with help from emergency officials in neighboring cities.
The cause of the fire is unknown.
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