Southern California was the home of a nasty Christmas surprise when brush fires began raging late night on December 25.
California has been the site of a terrible drought throughout most of this past year. In fact, in the past six weeks, there has been less than a tenth of an inch of rain in the area affected by the brush fires. The dry brush combined with strong winds to create the perfect condition for fires to be started by the smallest ember. So, when a power line fell on private property, the sparks ignited fires that went on to burn over 1,250 acres by Saturday afternoon.
— Capt Mike Lindbery (@VCFD_PIO) December 26, 2015
Authorities have not revealed the owner of the property the power line fell on, but they told The Weather Channel that they believed the line was downed by wind.
With the wind moving at roughly 50mph on Christmas Day, the fires ignited and spread at a quick and terrifying pace. 50 families in and around Solimar Beach, California, were forced to evacuate immediately, while 30 other families were given a voluntary suggestion. The reason for the evacuations was a matter of road closure.
U.S. 101 is a six-lane freeway that connects Northern and Southern California. It’s a major route and made a huge impact on residents and tourists to the area.
“We had multiple motorists stranded with the [fires] impinging on the highway,” Ventura County Fire Battalion Chief Fred Burris said to The Weather Channel. “We had motorists making U-turns going opposing directions on the freeway with other motorists, not realizing the situation.”
— LACoFireAirOps (@LACoFireAirOps) December 26, 2015
The California Ventura County Fire Department urged that people adhere to both the mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders so that they wouldn’t be cut off from help in case of an emergency. People were told to make sure all doors and windows were locked before evacuation.
“Make sure everything is buttoned up tight,” Captain Steve Kaufmann of the Ventura County Fire Department asked CNN to remind their readers in California. “If you leave any window or door or garage door open, that’s just an entrance for one of these embers… to get into your house. We don’t want that to happen.”
By Saturday morning, the brush fires were only 10 percent contained. However, although winds remained strong, they were lighter than the previous night, allowing firefighters to get the brush fires up to 60 percent contained by Saturday night.
A family visiting California from the Netherlands wasn’t stopped while driving parallel to the fires and were able to take video of the terrifying spectacle that was the brush beside their car.
Maaike Maks, the driver of the car, told CNN that the fires seemed to be further away than they were, until they were right in the middle of them.
“We didn’t realize it was this big and frightening … there was nobody stopping us on the highway as we got closer and closer, so we thought it was totally safe for us to drive past it. As we started getting closer, I decided to record the fire we saw next to us, as I had never seen this before. Then all of the sudden, all these sparks and a burning brush hit our car, and we couldn’t see anything of what was around us because of all the smoke. I was terrified and in a total shock. In the end, it only took a few seconds, but it felt like an hour … It was terrifying.”
California firefighters intend to remain on site to battle the brush fires throughout the night. In the meantime, all evacuation orders have been lifted and the freeway has been reopened.
[ Photo by Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. via AP ]