ABC News/Alex Stone (VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.) — Thousands of people were forced to flee their homes on Monday as firefighters battled a fast-moving wildfire in Southern California that has charred at least 50,000 acres of land, authorities said.
Intensified by strong winds and harsh weather conditions, the fire was affecting structures in downtown Ventura early Tuesday, with multiple homes on fire near City Hall. Emergency officials originally said a person died in the fire but later clarified that a dog was killed.
The fire is pushing west toward the Pacific Ocean, officials said Tuesday afternoon. At 0 percent containment so far, critical fire conditions are expected until through Thursday and into Friday.
L.A. County Deputy Fire Chief David Richardson described the unpredictable conditions that firefighters are facing as they attempt to contain the blaze.
“You can only imagine the impact this weather is having on the fire front,” he said. “We’re chasing the fire and trying to get ahead of it. And we’re chasing multiple fronts.”
More than 38,000 have been evacuated, officials said. Authorities have gone door-to-door to impose mandatory evacuations.
So far, about 2,500 homes were under mandatory evacuation in Ventura County as the flames moved southwest toward the coast. Officials said several thousand homes in nearby areas were evacuated because of the fire, although they cautioned that 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 brushfire in foothills east of Santa Paula around 6:30 p.m. Monday.
It grew to 10,000 acres in just four hours, authorities said.
Santa Paula’s Thomas Aquinas College, 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.
More than 150 structures, including a 60-unit apartment complex, have been destroyed by the Thomas Fire and more than 3,000 structures are threatened, officials said. California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a State of Emergency in Ventura County.
At least three firefighters were injured while battling the blaze officials said. ABC Los Angeles affiliate KABC-TV reported that at least two victims suffered burn injuries, and one victim is in critical condition.
Firefighters in Ventura said they were dealing with winds of 25 to 50 mph, which they said made it impossible to fight the fire via aircraft.
“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.
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