Wind-whipped wildfire destroys homes in southern California, winds decreasing

Monday, December 4th 2006, 6:18 am
By: News On 6

MOORPARK, Calif. (AP) With winds decreasing slightly, firefighters launched an aerial attack Monday against a ferocious wildfire that destroyed five homes and threatened hundreds more in the hilly outskirts of this Southern California bedroom community.

Six air tankers and nine helicopters took off shortly after dawn to begin dropping water and fire retardant on the stubborn blaze, which was raging out of control on the edge of luxury hillside estates and flatland citrus orchards in the area 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

``Today is going to be a good day for an aerial assault. The winds have slowed down a bit. we're expecting to hit it hard from the air and from the ground,'' Ventura County fire Capt. Barry Parker said.

No serious injuries were reported from the fire, which began early Sunday.

The area's dry Santa Ana winds, which gusted up to 60 mph overnight, had decreased to 20 to 40 mph but were still blowing in erratic and unpredictable patterns. That, coupled with low humidity and temperatures in the 70s, was making the fire difficult to fight, Parker said.

The National Weather Service issued a warning of extreme fire danger because of high wind and dry conditions.

The fire burned at least 9,700 acres, or 15 square miles, authorities said. It gutted a warehouse and five homes and damaged five other houses.

Meanwhile, firefighters rushed to battle another, much smaller brush fire that broke out 90 miles away, near a neighborhood of homes in Fontana. The blaze began Monday morning in almost the same spot as one that started Nov. 6 near the Sierra Lakes Golf Course and blackened more than 600 acres.

Monday's fire was close to dozens of homes, but the dwellings were not in immediate danger, San Bernardino County fire officials said.

The Moorpark fire began about 2:30 a.m. Sunday at two separate points near an egg packaging warehouse in this one-time farm town. The cause was under investigation.

About 1,000 firefighters battled the flames overnight, setting backfires to bring the two separate blazes together in an effort to better fight them, Parker said.

Their main concern Monday was keeping the fire boxed in a canyon area just north of Highway 118. If it jumps the highway, Parker said, it could burn down the canyon, over a ridge and into a neighborhood of homes in the nearby town of Fillmore.

About 100 homes were still threatened Monday, and the Moorpark Unified School District was closed for the day.

Some residents stayed put despite nearby flames up to 35-feet high. In one neighborhood, the fire came within 100 yards of homes.

Arturo Huerta, 88, stationed himself on the family's home with hose in hand and watched for burning embers. ``I'm kinda nervous,'' he said.