VENTURA, Calif. – A wind-whipped wildfire closed a major coastal highway in Southern California for several hours and forced dozens of homes to be evacuated, authorities said Saturday. No serious injuries or damages were reported.
The fire began late Friday northwest of the city of Ventura and immediately reached state Highway 101, a major route connecting Northern and Southern California. Fueled by dry timber and winds that reached 50 mph, it closed the six-lane highway in both directions on a roughly 15-mile northwest between state highways 150 and 33, forcing holiday motorists to narrow backcountry roads.
"We had multiple motorists stranded with the flames impinging on the highway," Ventura County Fire Battalion Chief Fred Burris said. "We had motorists making U-turns going opposing directions on the freeway with other motorists, not realizing the situation."
A downed power line on private property is believed to have sparked the fire, which had burned 1,250 acres by Saturday afternoon, said Tom Kruschke, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department, who didn't know the identity of the power line's owner. Wind may have felled the power line, he said.
Steep canyons and winds that quickly changed directions challenged about 600 firefighters who attacked the blaze on the ground and from the air. By early afternoon, the winds had died down and the rate of spread slowed significantly.
About 60 homes in the Solimar Beach community were under mandatory evacuation orders and about 30 homes were put under voluntary evacuation orders, Kruschke said. A stretch of Pacific Coast Highway also remained closed.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, one to a knee and one to an ankle, Kruschke said.