SANTA PAULA (CBSLA) – Mandatory evacuations were in place Friday for thousands due to the Maria Fire, which was burning south of Santa Paula.
The 10,720-acre fire broke out just after 6 p.m. Thursday in rugged terrain on South Mountain, off of Bradley Road and Solano Verde Drive. Flames could be seen for miles as the fire moved quickly through dry brush and trees.
On Friday, Southern California Edison said it had notified state regulators that “approximately 13 minutes prior to the fire, SCE re-energized a 16KV circuit near the area of the reported location of the fire.”
At least three homes have been destroyed. The area has lots of large properties, ranches and orchards, which have been helping fuel the fire. There was still no containment as of Friday.
“It went really quick last night,” evacuee Stephen Dreher said Friday. “In about three hours, this whole mountain was on fire.”
“When they (the ranches) do have the leaves or the overgrown material, it is making this fire grow,” Ventura County Fire Capt. Brian McGrath told CBS2. “However, that is one of the huge main sources that we are trying to protect. That is an infrastructure out here that we understand is the livelihood of some of these ranch owners.”
Mandatory evacuations were issued for about 8,000 people in Santa Paula, Somis and Saticoy. About 2,300 structures are threatened.
By noon Friday, the fire had spread down the South Mountain on the Santa Paula side and gotten into the Santa Clara Riverbed. A Santa Paula mobile home park is currently threatened.
“The current priority is the fire that has backed down on the Santa Paula side is actually got established in the river bottom and it is being influenced by some battling winds,” Assistant Ventura County Fire Chief John McNeil said. “And we do have some imminent structure threat.”
The region has been hit with powerful Santa Ana winds all week. Although an extreme red flag warning expired at 6 p.m. Thursday, a red flag warning remains in place through 6 p.m. Friday.
Ventura County Fire officials said crews took advantage of calmer wind conditions and cooler temperatures overnight Thursday, which helped slow the fire’s downhill growth.
“Conditions are looking more favorable than they have in the past four or five days,” said Mike Des Forges with VCFD.
Along with the terrain, winding farm roads were also posing a challenge to firefighters, making it hard for them to get their fire engines through. About 500 firefighters were battling the blaze on the ground and in the air with water-dropping helicopters and air tankers.
Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said several drones have been flying around the Maria Fire, also hampering firefighting efforts.
“Last night and early morning we had individuals flying small drones in the area of the flight operations for the fire suppression,” Ayub said. “This creates a very significant hazard for our airborne firefighting assets and causes them to land and stop firefighting efforts until that small aircraft is out of the area.”
The Maria Fire is second major fire to break out in Ventura County this week. The Easy Fire erupted in Simi Valley on early Wednesday morning, also forcing evacuations in that area.
Dozens of Ventura County schools have canceled classes for Friday.
Earlier this week, Southern California Edison had shut off power to more than 22,000 customers in Ventura County because of the Santa Ana winds. That number was down to 950 Friday morning in parts of Somis, Camarillo, Fillmore and Moorpark.