California wildfires: A new blaze menaces Ventura County, but weather conditions give firefighters hope

This remote-camera photo posted on the Ventura County Fire Department's Twitter page shows the beginning of the Maria fire at an antenna farm atop South Mountain.

A wildfire erupted overnight in the hills above communities in Southern California’s Ventura County, forcing evacuations for thousands of people early Friday — even as weather conditions may be improving for firefighters that are battling blazes across the state.

The Maria Fire broke out Thursday night on a mountain between the communities of Santa Paula and Somis, and raced downhill, spreading to about 8,060 acres in less than 8 hours, officials said.

It is one of at least 14 active wildfires in California, many of them stoked by furious winds in recent days.

By Friday morning, the Maria Fire forced evacuation orders for about 7,500 people around the mountain, roughly 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, the Ventura County Fire Department said.

Video from CNN affiliates showed much of the mountain glowing orange in the predawn darkness Friday, looming over Santa Paula, a city of about 30,000 people.

Weather conditions still may pose a problem, but they are improving. Red flag warnings — meaning wind, humidity and other conditions are ripe for fires — remain in effect Friday for parts of Southern California.

But winds should be slower — 35 mph gusts are possible Friday, compared with gusts above 70 mph earlier in the week, forecasters say.

Weaker winds and low pre-dawn temperatures — about 53 degrees Fahrenheit in the Santa Paula area — “have reduced the (Maria Fire’s) ability to aggressively run down hill,” the Ventura County fire department said on Twitter.

Multiple fires are burning

Of the active fires burning in California, more than half broke out this week. The fires stretch across the state from Mendocino County in the north to San Diego County in the south.

The biggest fire, the Kincade Fire, has incinerated parts of the wine country in Sonoma County since last week.

Together, the fires had burned through about 100,000 acres by Thursday night.

In the Los Angeles area, firefighters are battling multiple blazes, including the Getty Fire and Easy Fire.

The Getty Fire began Monday and is threatening more than 7,000 homes, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. The blaze was 52% contained Thursday night, the fire department said.

And about 40 miles northwest of the city, the Easy Fire broke out in Simi Valley Wednesday. Wind gusts of hurricane force — at least 74 mph — were reported at a weather station about seven miles north of Simi Valley on Thursday.

The Easy Fire has consumed more than 1,800 acres in Ventura County and threatened 6,500 homes, officials said. The fire forced school closures and mandatory evacuations of about 30,000 people in Simi Valley, officials said. It was 60% contained Thursday night.

The Ventura County Fire Department was sending resources from the Easy Fire to help contain the Maria Fire, Capt. Brian McGrath said.

‘Pictures I didn’t save’

The Hillside Fire destroyed at least six homes near San Bernardino Thursday, officials have said.

Matthew Valdivia’s family home was one of those destroyed. He evacuated with his wife and children, but their home burned to the ground.

“It hurts, but this can get replaced,” he said. “You can’t replace a life. That was my priority — just my kids, and making sure everybody was aware.”

One thing he regrets not grabbing: a laptop with the only copies of some baby photographs of his kids.

“That’s the only thing that hurts my feelings a lot — pictures I didn’t save,” he said.

California’s biggest fire is far from contained

North of the San Francisco Bay, the week-old Kincade Fire — the state’s largest active wildfire — has destroyed nearly 78,000 acres across Sonoma County and more than 260 structures, including more than 130 single-family homes, officials said.

It was about 65% contained as of early Friday.

The Kincade Fire started October 23, but the cause is still under investigation.

The state has secured grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fight several fires, including the Easy Fire and blazes in San Bernardino and Riverside County, the governor’s office said. The grants allow affected local and state and agencies to apply for a 75% reimbursement of eligible fire suppression costs.

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