MOORPARK, Calif. – Firefighters got a break from dangerous winds Monday and launched an aerial attack against a 10,000-acre wildfire that destroyed five homes and threatened hundreds more in the hills outside the Southern California bedroom community of Moorpark.
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.
Meanwhile, a second fire fanned by 50-mph winds broke out at the foot of the Cajon Pass, threatening homes. This is the same area south of Sierra Avenue at Interstate 15 that was burned a few weeks ago. Sierra Lakes Golf Club is in the path of flames.
Otto Schramm, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department, told FOX News that the so-called "Citrus Fire" in Fontana had burned 100 to 150 acres before it was contained later Monday afternoon. That fire, which began around 6:44 a.m. PT, had threatened one housing development; no evacuations were ordered. Eighty to 100 firefighters helped battle that fire.
A third fire that began at 10 a.m. PT has burned 20 acres so far in nearby Devore. The Colton fire brigade summoned for the Fontana fire was standing by in a residential area in case of need to battle the Devore flames. Two hand crews were on the scene with one bulldozer battling the blaze, which is located at Interstate 15 near Glen Helen Parkway. No water drops were planned as of 3 p.m. ET
But hundreds of homes were threatened early Monday by the larger fire in Ventura County and Moorpark, which was being fanned by strong, dry Santa Ana dry winds. Those winds, which gusted up to 60 mph overnight, had decreased to 20 to 40 mph Monday afternoon 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 blaze, which began around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, was considered very dangerous because of the winds causing it to move erratically.
The causes of the fires were under investigation. No injuries have been reported so far.
Around 1,000 firefighters are on the scene to help battle the blaze, with stucture protection now thier primary focus. They're clearing brush to make sure there is no wood lying around private homes and businesses.
"The outlook is looking pretty good, the winds have somewhat died down," Parker told FOX News around noon ET Monday. "We're starting to feel a little bit more confident about what we're doing out here."
Seven to eight neighborhoods have been told to evacuate so far. Dozens of trailers were being used to transport livestock lined up along a road.T hose residents have loaded up their cars, with many waiting in their driveways until they see flames coming close. It's only then when they will leave their homes.
The fire also razed a storage building.
"The sheriff's (deputies) said if you see flames, leave," said Dave Hare, who was at a home on the site of a recycling business he owns.
Some residents stayed put despite 35-feet flames nearby. 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.
The blaze began around the northwestern edge of Moorpark, a one-time farm town about 29 miles northwest of Los Angeles that has transformed into a bedroom community.
It quickly burned through over 10,000 acres of heavy brush and chaparral in hills dotted with horse ranches, tract homes, and eucalyptus, avocado and citrus groves on the city's outskirts.
Flames sprung up again around 7 a.m. near Moorpark, but fire officials later classified both fires as a single blaze known as the Shekell incident, although they were a couple of miles apart. A third fire burned south of Camarillo and was expected to be contained at 30 acres, authorities said.
By early evening, the fire had created a dense, brown-and-orange haze over the city and forced authorities to shut down part of Highway 23, the area's main north-south artery.
Hampered by 70-mph gusts, firefighters aided by water-dropping helicopters focused more on protecting homes than containing the flames.
A massive packaging plant was engulfed in flames and burnt for hours, occasionally letting off small explosions. Firefighters stood watch at a nearby estate to ensure a shift in wind wouldn't send flames toward the home.
A fire engine belonging to the state fire department tipped over during the initial response, but three firefighters aboard were uninjured. The accident occurred when the engine's driver apparently got too close to the edge of a road to let cars pass, officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.