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Woolsey fire jumps 101, closing freeway in Ventura County as tens of thousands evacuate their homes

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By Jaclyn Cosgrove, Ruben Vives and Alene Tchekmedyian

Los Angeles Times

OAK PARK, Calif. — Authorities early Friday ordered new mandatory evacuations as the fast-moving Woolsey fire in California raged through Oak Park in Ventura County and into Agoura Hills in Los Angeles County, growing to 8,000 acres as it burned homes and reportedly left people trapped.

At least 20 homes were damaged or destroyed as fire crews sprayed so-called water curtains to prevent flames from hopscotching home to home, fire authorities said.

About 75,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties are under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders, but with the situation rapidly changing, that number is expected to grow. There have been no fatalities or severe injuries despite several reports of people being trapped by the fire.

Live television images showed multiple homes consumed by flames, chunks of structures falling into driveways as firefighters doused flames.

About 3 a.m., mandatory evacuation orders were given for Westlake Village and areas of Calabasas, and Cheeseboro Canyon was being hit hard by the fire, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

“It is critical that residents pay close attention to evacuation orders. This is a very dangerous wind-driven fire,” the department said in a tweet.

About 5:15 a.m., the Ventura County Fire Department reported on Twitter that the fire had jumped the 101 Freeway at Chesebro Road and was burning south.

Douglas Wayne stood at the corner of Kanan Road and Lindero Canyon Road in Oak Park, watching the fire burn the hillside behind his family’s home, where they’ve lived about 17 years.

Wayne said he was around when a fire threatened the community many years ago. But that time, he said, there was no wind. Neighbors sat outside, watching it burn. This time was different.

It got smoky quickly, he said, and then suddenly an alert came to evacuate immediately.

“We don’t have tornadoes, we don’t have hurricanes. We have earthquakes, and the fires, but earthquakes are like a bad shot in the (butt) — it hurts for a moment, but then you can fix and repair, and you’re OK. You don’t live in terror,” Wayne said. “This was really scary.”

Several people were reportedly trapped by flames in the 5600 block of Hollytree Drive and were asking for emergency assistance, according to the Ventura County Star.

Authorities had requested 10 additional fire strike teams to help protect the structures threatened by the blaze, the Star said. Crews at the scene said that without the additional help, they had run out of resources to fight the fire.

At 1 a.m., firefighters in Oak Park were working furiously to stop the blaze.

Flames engulfed a home at Churchwood Drive and Kellwood Court, while the roofs of a few other homes burned. Firefighters sprayed streams of water from their hoses in an attempt to save what was left of the homes.

Areas placed under mandatory evacuation included the entire communities of Oak Park and Westlake Village, and portions of Thousand Oaks, from Thousand Oaks Boulevard north to Sunset Hills and from Oak Park west to Highway 23. Previous evacuation orders remain in place for Saddlebow Road in Bell Canyon.

In Los Angeles County, evacuations were ordered above the 101 Freeway from Valley Circle to Lindero Canyon Road, and south of Bell Canyon Road, west of Valley Circle Boulevard and east to the Los Angeles city limit.

Los Angeles police were placed on tactical alert to ensure that enough resources were available to help with evacuations or road closures. “If you’re in an (affected) area & have been ordered to evacuate, evacuate,” the LAPD said on Twitter.

In just a few hours overnight, the Woolsey fire exploded in size — with no sign of stopping. It had crossed over the Albertson Motorway, the ridgeline that separates Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, in an area called China Flat, above Cheeseboro and Palo Comado canyons, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said.

Wind-whipped conditions make “ripe conditions for explosive fire behavior,” Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Erik Scott told KNBC-TV Channel 4. “This is the new normal. When we have conditions like this, when it’s such incredible wind, that brings us in to a different caliber, so it’s become a much more challenging condition.”

Embers from burning vegetation and structures are the primary contributor to rapid fire spread, the Ventura County Fire Department said on Twitter.

Authorities said they have no containment of the blaze, which comes as strong Santa Ana winds blew through the region, with the strongest winds expected overnight into Friday morning. Forecasters predict gusts of 40 to 50 mph in the valleys and coasts, and from 60 to 70 mph in the mountains.

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag fire warning that will remain in effect through Friday night.

(Cosgrove and Vives reported from Oak Park, Tchekmedyian from Los Angeles.)

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