UPDATED: 9:30 AM SUNDAY: The Maria Fire is now estimated at 50% contained, as evacuation orders were lifted and residents gradually trickled back to their homes this morning.
The blaze has consumed 9,412 acres and destroyed two structures (officials previously put the count at three). Cooler temperatures and lighter winds overnight helped firefighters get a handle on containment, but dry conditions remain for Sunday.
UPDATED 8:30 AM SATURDAY: Diminishing winds are helping firefighters get a handle on the Maria Fire, which is now estimated at 20% contained. But red flag warnings are still in effect because of low humidity and bone dry vegetation.
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USA Today reported that Southern California Edison said it re-energized a 16,000-volt power line minutes before the Maria Fire erupted nearby last week. The company issued a statement saying it has no knowledge of the actual cause of the fire, but would “cooperate with the appropriate investigative agencies if asked to do so.”
An estimated 11,000 people are still under evacuation orders in the area.
UPDATED 8:45 PM FRIDAY: The Maria Fire has now burned 9,400 acres and consumed three structures. Firefighters are battling gusting winds and continued dry conditions.
“We’re in the middle of a big fight, and the end is not in sight,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said during an afternoon news conference. A red flag warning has been extended to 6 PM on Saturday, as 1300 firefighters are battling the blaze.
About 2,700 structures are threatened and more than 10,000 residents remain under evacuation orders.
UPDATED with latest from fire department press conference: The wildfire just south of Santa Paula continues to grow, burning nearly 9,000 acres, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. Evacuations are in effect for 8,000 people, at least two structures have been lost and 2,300 are threatened. The blaze is 0% contained.
According to the Ventura County Sheriff, several small drones have been flying around the affected area, hampering firefighting efforts.
The Maria Fire was first reported about 6:15 p.m. Thursday atop South Mountain and was burning toward the communities of Somis and Saticoy.
“We’re in the middle of a big fight, and the end is not in sight,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said during an afternoon news conference Friday.
By mid-morning Friday, due to what fire officials described as “battling winds,” the fire changed direction, pushing flames toward neighborhoods in Santa Paula. Strike teams were staging near two mobile home parks off West Santa Maria Street in an effort to keep the fire from jumping the Santa Clara River.
At least two Ventura County helicopters took to air shortly after 6:30 am Friday after all air crews had been grounded Thursday night, said Capt. Brian McGrath, of Ventura County Fire. With daylight, more air tankers and air crews from other areas are expected to tackle the blaze.
Mandatory evacuations are in effect for an area bordered by South Mountain Road on the north, Highway 118 on the south, Los Angeles Avenue on the west and Balcom Canyon Road on the east, authorities say.
Earlier, a fire called the Coronado Fire was quickly corralled near Coronado Circle in Santa Paula on Thursday afternoon.
Late on Thursday, the Santa Paula Unified School District and the Mesa Union School District announced that all schools will be closed on Friday.
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