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Wildfires Destroy 5 Homes in California

December 4, 2006

MOORPARK, Calif. (AP) _ Hundreds of homes were threatened early Monday by a brush fire driven by powerful Santa Ana winds that destroyed five homes while sweeping through this Southern California bedroom community.

The 15-square-mile fire also razed a storage building, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Barry Parker. Hundreds of residents packed valuables and fled after authorities called for evacuations, while dozens of trailers used to transport livestock lined up along a road.

``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 2:30 a.m. Sunday on 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 9,700 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, more than 1,000 firefighters aided by water-dropping helicopters focused more on protecting homes than containing the flames. Crews were bracing for winds up to 30 mph and gusts as high as 50 mph combined with low humidity on Monday.

``You don’t attack a fire with winds this extreme,″ said Capt. Mike Mathiesen of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. ``They’re ferocious.″

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.

No major injuries were reported. 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.

In Riverside County, firefighters gained control of a wildfire that burned 100 acres of hillside brush. The fire, which began late Saturday near a high school in Norco, was fanned by strong winds and caused one minor injury to a firefighter.

The causes of the fires were under investigation.


Associated Press writer Christina Almeida contributed to this report.

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