Southern California fire destroys homes, orchards, threatens oil fields



LOS ANGELES: A fast-moving bush fire threatened orchards, oil fields and houses while displacing thousands of residents on Friday, even when the decline in winds helped fire crews master a series of wildfires in Other parts of the state.

The latest in a series of conflagrations that have kept California firefighters moving for weeks roared to life Thursday night near the Santa Paula mountain farm community, about 70 miles (112.65 km) northwest of the Angels .

While the Maria fire spread over nearly 9,000 acres (3,642 hectares) of dry shrubs and chaparral, firefighters struggled to protect tens of millions of dollars in citrus and avocado crops in danger, as well as the infrastructure of the nearby oil industry.

The fire also threatened high-voltage power lines nearby, along with radio and communications towers on the top of a large hill called South Mountain, where the flames originated, Ventura County firefighters said.

There are still reasons for caution and concern. We're not out of danger yet, county fire chief Mark Lorenzen said at a press conference. We still have 24 hours of critical fire weather ahead.

He said that approximately 1,300 firefighters, many from other places in California and the western United States, were assigned to the fire.

At sunset, the fire threatened some 2,700 houses and other structures, with approximately 10,800 people under evacuation orders, Sheriff Bill Auyb told reporters.

No injuries were reported, but at least two houses were destroyed, county spokeswoman Natalie Hernandez told Reuters by phone.

The oil production equipment at stake, belonging to California Resources Corp, includes wells, pipes, storage tanks and pumping plants, Hernandez said, adding that there was little vegetation immediately around those facilities.

The oil fields have a good distance against fires, so it works in their favor, he said.

The general fire zone also encompasses a lemon and avocado crop valued at between $ 95 million and $ 120 million, said Korinne Bell, deputy chief commissioner of county agriculture.

Preliminary assessments have found burned and burned trees around the perimeter of several orchards, although the full extent of the damage has not yet been determined due to limited access, Bell told Reuters.

She said avocado orchards are more susceptible to fire because they have a higher oil content than citrus fruits and accumulate more litter at the base of their trees, making them more flammable.

There are many avocados, but many more lemons, which is good news because lemons don't burn as easily as avocados, he said.

The crop inspectors also found many trees covered in fire retardant mud that dropped the tankers to fight fires during the day, he said.

The fire broke out just as the fierce gusts of the Santa Ana desert had begun to subside after howling in much of southern California for two days. But strong and erratic winds were expected to persist until Saturday in many mountainous areas and at the foot of the mountains, including the Santa Paula fire zone.

Elsewhere, decreasing winds helped control several fires in the region that had broken out before.

Just 30 miles (48.28 km) to the east in , a blaze that raged to the edge of the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Wednesday was 60% contained on Friday, while containment on a separate fire that had threatened the Getty Center art museum and thousands of homes in west the Angels on Monday was listed at 66% contained.

East of the Angels , the 200-acre (80-hectare) Hillside fire that burned several homes early on Thursday in the north end of San Bernardino was 70% contained by Friday.

The last recurrence of Santa Ana's seasonal winds coincided with extremely low levels of relative humidity and a prolonged lack of rain that has left dry vegetation in the region.

While all of the most recent fires remain under investigation, wind-related damage to power lines has been implicated in several major California fires, including the Getty fire.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co acknowledged last week that the Kincade fire, which carbonized 77,000 acres (31,160 hectares) of the wine country of Sonoma County north of San Francisco, began last week near an approximately PG&E transmission tower damaged at the moment a high voltage line in that tower worked badly.

That fire, which destroyed at least 349 homes and other structures, was 65% contained on Thursday night.

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