Dozens of firefighters remain on scene of grass fire in southern Calif.
The fire started in an area where the surrounding hills come closer together, making it a difficult area to fight fires
By John Scheibe
The Ventura County Star
VENTURA, Calif. — Close to 100 firefighters remained on scene of a brush fire north of Ventura Friday afternoon more than 24 hours after it was first reported just east of Highway 33.
"The winds are picking up this afternoon and we're maintaining a heavy presence here just in case," Barry Parker, a captain with the Ventura County Fire Department, said as he stood outside a mobile command center set up on Thursday about a mile south of where Thursday's fire started.
The fire was 75 percent contained by Friday afternoon. Authorities hoped it would be fully contained before the end of the day, Parker said.
The fire burned some 50 acres of steep rugged land just east of North Ventura Avenue and next to the Casitas Vista Road exit along Highway 33.
Parker said a Ventura County arson squad was investigating what caused the fire, which started next to Casitas Vista.
Arson investigations are common with many fires, Parker said, noting he did not know of anything specific in this fire that would point to arson.
Fire crews could be seen walking along a ridge high above Highway 33 on Friday afternoon.
"We just put out some embers after the wind picked up again," Doug MacCready, an engineer with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said as he sat along a dirt embankment next to Ventura Road.
While no smoke or flames were visible from there, the smell of burned brush was in the air.
Parker said fire crews would remain on scene throughout Friday and into Saturday.
"There's still a lot of material that could burn should a fire start up again," he said.
A Southern California Edison crew worked on a transformer about 500 yards from where Thursday's fire started.
Greg Racicot, a foreman with Edison, said high winds damaged the transmission lines.
Firefighters, meanwhile, managed to keep the blaze from damaging any power lines, underground gas lines, or any nearby structures.
The fire started in an area where the surrounding hills come closer together, creating a narrow valley "and a funnel for the ocean winds," Parker said. The funnel causes very erratic winds, making it harder to fight a fire there, he said.
The blaze, dubbed the Casitas incident, was reported at 1:56 p.m. Thursday. It quickly spread from a half acre to 40 acres and eventually 50 acres.
The fire's rapid growth came as winds of 20 miles per hour or more buffeted the area.
Winds died down overnight, greatly easing the job of firefighters.
By daybreak Friday, winds were down to less than 2 miles per hour, said Ryan Kitell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
But winds picked up again Friday afternoon, with some of them measuring 20 mph.
While the winds pose a threat, they are expected to be weaker than Thursday's winds and a lot less than Wednesday's winds "when we had gusts of 50 mph or more," Kittell said.
About 60 people were evacuated as a precaution from Teen Challenge about an hour after the fire was reported. Teen Challenge is an addiction treatment center off North Ventura Avenue.
The fire comes as Ventura County has again received less than normal rainfall this season.
"There's a lot of combustible material out there right now," Parker said. Much of the rainy season has already passed, creating new worries about bigger wildfires later this year, he said.
Copyright 2016 Ventura County Star