Two-thousand firefighters continue to battle a pair major fires that broke out within an hour of each other Thursday afternoon, burning dozens of structures and sending wind-driven flames that found life along the Conejo Grade and in Simi Valley and spread rapidly to the Conejo Valley and onward to Malibu.
Historic Western Town at Paramount Ranch in Agoura reportedly has burned.
Fire officials held a press conference at Conejo Creek Park South Friday morning to update the public on the status of the fires which sent tens of thousands of residents fleeing from their homes overnight.
At over 10,000 acres and growing, the Woolsey fire is the larger of the two blazes. It started in Simi Valley around 3 p.m. Thursday and burned south into Oak Park and Agoura, destroying homes and other structures before it jumped the freeway near Liberty Canyon Road on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
The flames were fanned by strong Santa Ana winds that created wind gusts of 50 mph, according to the National Weather Service’s Oxnard office. Wind advisories have been issued for the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Conejo valleys.
Traffic was jammed along Kanan Road Thursday night as residents fled their homes under mandatory evacuation orders. No civilian injuries or casualties were reported.
The Woolsey fire is currently burning south of Mullholland Drive toward the sea.
Thursday night, it was Oak Park that felt the biggest blow.
“Really, we’re concentrating on evacuation of Oak Park near Deer Hill (road),” Bill Nash, Ventura County Fire Department spokesperson said at 10:30 p.m. Thursday as the flames began slamming into the streets and homes in northern Oak Park, and residents, including many from Agoura Hills, loaded personal belongings and pets into their vehicles and headed mostly toward the San Fernando Valley looking for hotel rooms, Red Cross Shelters and homes of friends and family members where they might have a place to stay.
An overflow of evacuees at one shelter at Pierce College forced Red Cross officials to open a second shelter on the S.F. Valley campus.
The Hill fire, which began north of the Conejo Grade around 2 p.m. Thursday, is estimated at 6,000 acres. Because it is burning in the diminished fuels in the footprint of the 2013 Springs fire, many resources have been diverted to fighting the Woolsey fire.
One firefighter suffered minor injuries fighting the Hill fire. The fire is threatening homes, commercial structures, electrical infrastructure and a Navy satellite communication site on Laguna Peak.
Around 75,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes.
Speaking at Friday morning’s press conference, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks recognized that the community was dealing with the fires in the wake of the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill that claimed the lives of 13 people in Thousand Oaks Wednesday night.
“We are still reeling,” she said. “But we are also very resilient.”
Evacuation centers have been set up throughout the region including at the Borchard Community Center, the Goebel Adult Community Center, the Thousand Oaks Teen Center, Thousand Oaks High School, the Rancho Santa Susana Recreation Center, Pierce College and Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills.
Both fires are following historical fire footprints. The Hill fire is roughly taking the same path of the Greenmeadow fire in 1993 and the Springs fire in 2013. The 25-year anniversary of the Greenmeadow fire was two weeks ago.
The Woolsey fire is following the path of multiple fires that have burned from the Santa Susana Pass to the coast. It is also covering the same territory scorched by the 1978 Kanan fire that burned from Cornell Road in Agoura to the beach in two hours. The 40-year anniversary of that blaze, which was part of a series of SoCal fires known as the 1978 Agoura-Malibu firestorm, was also two weeks ago.
Evacuation information can be found at vcemergency.com.