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Ventura County under siege from massive fire threatening communities and closing the 101 Freeway

Joseph Serna and Benjamin Oreskes, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Portions of Ventura County were under siege Thursday afternoon as a massive fire descended on neighborhoods, threatening numerous communities.

The Hill Fire was being whipped by powerful winds that pushed it through canyons and to the edge of Camarillo Springs and Cal State Channel Islands, both of which were evacuated.

The fire, as well as a smaller one that broke out to the east near Box Canyon, created chaotic conditions in an area that less than 24 hours earlier was devastated by a mass shooting that left 13 people dead.

Authorities have shut down U.S. 101 in both directions at Camarillo Springs Road, forcing some motorists to drive down the wrong side of the freeway to avoid the fire.

Paul Heckathorne, 42, of Newbury Park, was driving home from work when he saw smoke spewing from the hills. He pulled off the freeway to see where the fire was coming from.

"I've lived here for a long time and ... seen these hills go flames many times," he said. "It's happens and it's made worse by Santa Ana winds."

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The blaze, which began about 2 p.m., raced across as much as 10,000 acres in less than two hours and prompted the evacuation of a water treatment plant and hiking trials, officials said Thursday afternoon. A nearby trailer park also was being evacuated.

The fire broke out in Hill Canyon off Santa Rosa Road near Newbury Park, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. It's burning in the footprint of the Springs Fire that scorched more than 24,000 acres a few years ago, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Brian McGrath.

"The wind is definitely pushing this thing toward the ocean just like the Springs fire a few years ago," he said. "It's very fast."

Firefighters were attempting to attack it by air because steep terrain has made the burn area inaccessible.

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