South Incident news article
Fire sweeps Somis hills
Wind-swept flames scorch 369 acres
By Charles Levin
Ventura County Star writer
Tuesday December 26, 2000
A wind-whipped fire in the mountains between Santa Paula and Somis
devoured more than 350 acres of brush as it lighted up the early
Christmas morning sky with flames.
The fire was started by a downed private power line, said Sandi Wells,
spokeswoman with the Ventura County Fire Protection District. Gusty
Santa Ana winds, at times reaching 65 mph, made it difficult to fight
Officials contained 75 percent of the blaze which had burned 369 acres
by 7 p.m. Monday, Wells said. Firefighters from more than 15 agencies
worked through the night. They hoped to contain the blaze by 8 a.m.
today and have it under control by 6 p.m., said Joe Luna, spokesman.
More than 279 firefighters from three counties were on the scene,
aided by helicopters and three air tankers. Besides the Ventura County
Fire Protection District, the California Department of Forestry and
city departments from Ventura, Oxnard, Santa Paula and Fillmore sent
personnel to squelch the blaze. Fire personnel from Santa Barbara and
Los Angeles counties also assisted.
The fire headed down both sides of South Mountain, eating up grass as
it moved toward the rural enclave of Somis and sage as it drove toward
Much of the fire occurred on steep terrain with lots of rocks and
drop-offs, making it difficult to fight, Wells said.
No homes were threatened, but the firefighters' main concern was
keeping the fire from reaching a communications tower, several
outbuildings, 10 ranch houses and some oil facilities on the mountain,
However, there was little chance of it reaching those structures
because a fire in the same area last year burned up most of the grass,
Several oil pipelines also crisscross the area, but the fire did not
pose a threat to them, Wells said.
Firefighters responded at 5:17 a.m. to a 911 call from a local
The National Weather Service reported strong Santa Ana winds
throughout Southern California on Monday, with gusts reaching more
than 70 mph in some mountain and pass areas.
High winds are forecast through today, with breezy conditions expected
through Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Stuart Seto
Monday's blaze comes a week after a fire burned 530 acres north of
Fillmore in Hopper Canyon. Like Monday's fire, the Hopper Canyon burn
was also fanned by dry Santa Ana winds that carry hot air from the
mountains toward the ocean.
The South Mountain fire also comes a year after the Bradley fire in
the same area on Dec. 5, 1999. That, too, was pumped by 70 mph Santa
Ana winds and burned 3,332 acres of brush and an avocado orchard.
A little more than two weeks later came the Ojai Ranch fire, which
lasted three days, burned 4,300 acres and cost more than $4 million to
fight. Jonathan Barrett, 18, and Brett Schwermer, 19, of Ojai, were
sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service for accidentally
starting the fire by blowing up a mailbox with fireworks.
Monday, firefighters had an edge in beating back the blaze because it
started a few hours before a shift in personnel at 8 a.m., said
Ventura County Fire Protection District Chief Bob Roper. That way, the
county could employ both shifts at once, Roper said.
The fire district put its team on alert Sunday after reports of Santa
Ana winds, Roper said.
"We were prepared to begin our response," Roper said Monday morning at
Mesa School, in Somis. Being Christmas Day, "This fire is tough on
families and firefighters. If this had happened after 8 a.m., it would
have been harder to re-call people."
-- Associated Press wire services contributed to this story.
-- Charles Levin's e-mail address is clevin@....
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