80,000 Acres Torched in Ventura County, CA by Wildfires

Wildfires leave 13 dead, destroy 780 homes; 80,000 acres torched in Ventura County; Fire burns 6 homes, hurts 2 firefighters in Simi, Moorpark.

Wildfires leave 13 dead, destroy 780 homes; 80,000 acres torched in Ventura County; Fire burns 6 homes, hurts 2 firefighters in Simi, Moorpark.

Raging brush fires, fueled by Santa Ana winds and summerlike temperatures, marched across Ventura County on Sunday, torching 105,000 acres, destroying six homes and blackening skies for miles around.

The largest blaze, at 80,000 acres, destroyed the homes and damaged eight others in the cities of Moorpark and Simi Valley. The only injuries reported were to two firefighters involved in an accident involving cactus. A smaller, 25,000-acre fire threatened homes in Piru and Fillmore.

The cause of the Simi fire was still under investigation, said Mike Davidson, battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry's Tulare unit.

The Simi blaze cut a thin path through the cities of Moorpark and Simi Valley, said Joe Luna, Ventura County Fire Protection District spokesman.

Officials did not call for evacuations. Some residents chose to leave, carrying valuables and leading pets and horses behind them. Others gathered in one of four shelters opened by the Red Cross. Officials could not say how many people had left homes.

Officials, however, said neither city was out of the woods yet. "There are still structures at risk," said John Foy, spokesman with the Ventura County Fire Protection District. "There are still places in the city at risk."

The weather was not expected to cooperate today. The forecast will remain the same -- hot and windy.

Santa Ana winds should end by Tuesday night or Wednesday, said Bill Hoffer, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. "We're going to to start getting that onshore flow again," he said.

Fire officials are advising people to steer clear of Highways 23 and 118 today. Motorists are urged to leave early, allow plenty of time to reach destinations, slow down in heavy smoke and move out of the way of fire vehicles or equipment.

About 800 firefighters from around the state battled the conflagration Sunday, including the Ventura County Fire Protection District, Los Angeles Fire Department, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Kern County Fire Department, and Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Ventura County sheriff's deputies and Simi Valley police also assisted.

Fire officials acknowledged that resources were stretched thin because of the numerous Southern California fires. However, fire companies from Ramona, Sacramento, Clovis, Pechanga and Riverside County arrived Sunday to assist in Ventura County.

Officials reported the fire 5 percent contained by 7:30 p.m. but could not say when it would be brought under control. They expected the blaze to burn more land.

Their goal, Davidson said, was to keep the fire north of Highway 118 and west of Los Angeles County so it did not threaten Thousand Oaks. They were also hoping to keep it east of Highway 23 so it didn't reach the Las Posas hills and Santa Rosa Valley, Foy said.

A second fire that started in Piru on Thursday had been nearly contained until it flared up Sunday afternoon, threatening the city of Fillmore.

As of the last report Sunday night, the following roads or parts of roads were closed: Highway 118 between Moorpark and the San Fernando Valley; Tierra Rejada Road between Simi Valley and Moorpark; Highway 23 between Moorpark and Fillmore; and Highway 126 from Santa Paula to Interstate 5, officials said.

The blaze darkened skies, which rained snowlike ash to Ventura and Newbury Park. Firefighting efforts were thwarted by 20 to 30 mph winds, which forced air tankers from the air. Helicopters, however, continued making water drops, Luna said.

On Saturday, Gov. Gray Davis proclaimed a state of emergency in Ventura and San Bernardino counties and asked President Bush to declare a major disaster for both counties. Davis' proclamation will allow counties to recoup firefighting costs, estimated at $911,000 on Sunday night.

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