Thousands flee massive Southern California wildfire

Thousands flee massive Southern California wildfire

- in US

More than 27,000 people were evacuated overnight Tuesday after a massive wildfire stoked by high winds and feeding on tinder-dry conditions roared through a Southern California county just north of Los Angeles.

No fatalities were reported from the blaze, dubbed the Thomas Fire, which has devoured around 50,000 acres and reduced some 150 homes and businesses in Ventura County to ashes, officials said.

“We had a very rough night,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “We were leap-frogging along, protecting structures.”

One firefighter was injured in the effort, but his condition was not disclosed.

Photos: Southern California wildfire devours homes as residents escape

The Ventura County Fire Department tweeted that residents should expect the blaze to increase as powerful Santa Ana winds, which carry hot, extremely dry air from inland, gust from 40 to 60 mph.

The flames were marching ever closer to the cities of Santa Paula and Ventura, which have a combined population of about 140,000, Lorenzen said.

About 20 million people in the region could be at risk from the fire, said “TODAY” weather anchor Al Roker.

Image: Map showing Southern California wildfire in Ventura County

Thomas Aquinas College, which is within the affected area, evacuated its students as a precaution, reported NBC Los Angeles. The college said on Twitter Tuesday afternoon that while the flames at one point came up to a campus access road they subsided and no major structures have been harmed.

The inferno erupted Monday night east of Santa Paula, which is about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

What sparked the blaze is not known, but officials said the ongoing drought has left the area “ripe for fire spreading.”

Rodrigo Rivera, 22, a resident of Oxnard, went to Ventura to check on a friend and ended up helping evacuate residents early Tuesday morning. He said a firefighter approached and asked them to help.

“When he came running towards us that’s when I realized this is not controlled at all,” Rivera said in a phone interview. “You know it’s a serious moment when a firefighter comes running to you asking for help.”

Rivera and said he and his friend knocked on doors of houses to get people out, and amid flaming debris from trees on fire helped elderly residents leave their homes. “Embers were just flying everywhere — the winds picked up and more houses started catching on fire.”

Image: Remains of a home are seen after wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California

The remains of a home are seen after it burned to the ground during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California on Dec. 5, 2017.