News from around the Ojai Valley

Maria Fire consumes over 8,700 acres, leading to 7,500 evacuations and 1,800 structures threatened

BREAKING NEWS: 2:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 1
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Photo by Shannon Penrith taken from the Sulphur Mountain Road trail at 10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31.
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Fire as it nears Somis Thursday evening Oct. 31.
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BREAKING NEWS: 2:26 a.m. Nov. 1:
As of 2:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 1, there is zero containment of the 8,040-acre Maria Fire that  was reported at 6:13 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, on South Mountain Road, parallel to Highway 126, between Santa Paula and Somis, according to Ventura County Fire Department officials.
The fire was reported to have reached the river bottom south of Clow Road, some distance from Todd Road Jail on the western outskirts of Santa Paula at 2:23 a.m. Fire officials estimated the fire would reach Todd Lane by midmorning, according to fire official broadcasts.
Two helicopters were deployed through the night.
For up-to-date information on the fire and information on road closures, the public can visit www.vcemergency.com.
To view the evacuation area and type in your own address to check, visit:
www.vcoesmaps.arcgis.com
Two homes reportedly burned on the Somis side, but no homes are reported lost on the Saticoy or Santa Paula sides. As of 12:17 a.m., 1,800 structures were threatened, and 7,500 people had been advised to evacuate, said  Capt. Brian McGrath, VCFD public information officer.
The Camarillo Community Center at 1605 Burnley Street is an evacuation center. Animals of all sizes can be taken to the Humane Society of Ventura County at 402 Bryant St. in Ojai (805-646-6505). Large animals are also welcome at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura, and Earl Warren Fairgrounds in Santa Barbara, and at the animal shelter at Camarillo Airport, 600 Aviation Drive, Camarillo.
An illegal drone flying in the air temporarily grounded water-dropping helicopters Thursday evening and firefighters reminded people that it is illegal to operate a drone during aerial firefighting efforts. 
"This is not the Thomas Fire," said John McNeil of Ojai, assistant chief of the Ventura County Fire Department Emergency Services Bureau, referencing the 2017 fire that consumed 281,893 over several days. 
Based on the location, the Maria Fire "will eventually run out of fuel" and be contained to about 12,000 acres, he estimated. Good news is that the east winds are forecast to subside by midday Friday, he said.
He added that there is very little combustible land on the Saticoy side, where the fire will be significantly slowed by the row crops "and manicured land."
Despite the wind subsiding, there will still be low humidity and warm weather, which will "enhance fire behavior," McNeil said.
Approximately 400 firefighters are fighting the fire and 100 deputy sheriffs are providing perimeter security and monitoring road closures, said McGrath.
McGrath said the fire started near the top of South Mountain Road and has damaged the communications infrastructure that many county government agencies use.
McNeil said more firefighting resources are being called in and there are four helicopters flying through the night, and have been flying, since the fire started. Two helicopters were still up at 2:30 a.m. Friday.
The fire was quickly spread by east winds  blowing 20 to 3 mph, McGrath said.
Concerns are "very high," McNeil said, particularly in the area of oil fields, of which there are many on South Mountain. There are several agriculture and oil holdings in the footprint of the fire, he said, adding, "the South Mountain area has quite a bit of fire history."
Fire crews are trying to keep the fire south of Highway 126, north of Highway 118, east of Vineyard Avenue and west of Balcom Canyon Road. People who live in that area are being urged to evacuate, officials said.
McNeil said the fact that the fire started high on the South Mountain ridge "gave us time to start our evacuations." He said the terrain and access issues have made it difficult to get to the edge of the fire and that the Fire Department has been doing perimeter control.
McNeil said that defending avocado groves is a high priority because they are "high value' and they also provide an opportunity to get a handle on the fire.
Shannon Penrith, who lives off the Sulphur Mountain Road trail, took this photo of the Maria Fire at 10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31.
Link to Youtube video of start of Maria Fire on South Mountain from Castro Fire camera:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bBv49qq648&feature=youtu.be