CAMARILLO, CALIFORNIA — A fierce, wind-whipped brush fire grew along the California coast northwest of Los Angeles on Friday, threatening thousands of homes and a military base as about 200 dwellings were evacuated and a university campus closed.
A force of more than 900 firefighters had managed by daybreak to carve containment lines around about 10 percent of the perimeter of the inferno, which has scorched some 4,047 hectares of dry, dense brush and chaparral since erupting on Thursday morning.
Several farm buildings and recreational vehicles were engulfed, and fire officials said 15 homes were damaged, though no residential structures were lost and no injuries have been reported, authorities said.
While the extent of evacuations was scaled back on Friday, some 4,000 homes were considered to be under threat, the Ventura County Fire Department said.
The so-called Springs Fire and a flurry of smaller blazes around the state this week marked an abrupt start to a California fire season that weather forecasters predict will be worsened by a summer of high temperatures and drought throughout much of the U.S. West.
"We're seeing fires burning like we usually see in late summer, at the height of the fire season, and it's only May,'' Ventura County fire department spokesman Tom Crush told Reuters.
Strong, erratic winds that complicated efforts to combat the Springs Fire through much of the first day abated somewhat Friday morning but seemed to be picking up again, Crush said.
In the meantime, wind conditions had improved enough to allow several planes equipped for dumping payloads of fire-retardant chemicals to return to the air at dawn along with a fleet of six water-dropping helicopters, he said.
Stretch of Pacific coast highway closed
The blaze broke out at about 1330 GMT on Thursday beside the U.S. 101 freeway, less than 16 kms north of the Pacific coast, and quickly spread to the fringes of the communities of Camarillo and Newbury Park.
By Friday morning, flames had advanced to within a short distance of the ocean's edge in some places, forcing authorities to close several miles of Pacific Coast Highway.
At the Point Mugu U.S. Naval Air Station on the coast, all non-essential personnel were ordered to stay home for a second day as flames encroached on a firing range at the extreme western end of the base, spokeswoman Kimberly Gearhart said. She said no ammunition is stored at that facility.
Thick smoke that obscured visibility over the base on Thursday had largely dissipated with shifting winds, she said, adding aircraft were continuing to shuttle personnel between the base and a communications station on San Nicholas Island offshore.
Evacuations for two residential subdivisions at the northern end of the fire zone near Camarillo have been lifted but remained restricted to residents carrying identification, sheriff's Sergeant Eric Buschow said.
Some 200 homes along the coastal highway and canyon roads leading up into the foothills north from the highway remained evacuated, he said.
California State University at Channel Islands campus, including student housing, was closed for a second day, the university said in a website posting, though official evacuation orders for the school were lifted.
A smaller blaze east of Los Angeles in Riverside County on Thursday destroyed two houses and damaged two others before firefighters halted its spread, and at least five additional wildfires burned in northern California.