At least one person has died as a result of the fast-spreading wildfire plaguing more than 30,000 acres in southern California, officials say.
The blaze, dubbed “Thomas Fire,” started near Santa Paula — which is about 70 miles north of Los Angeles — and spread to cover at least 31,000 acres by 4 a.m., according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. One person died in a rollover crash while trying to evacuate the area as thousands attempted to escape in the dark, CNN reports.
“The fire is still out of control and structures continue to be threatened throughout the fire area,” officials said in a statement, describing the blaze as a “fast moving, active brush fire.” “Due to the intensity of the fire, crews are having trouble making access and there are multiple reports of structures on fire.”
The flames burned into Ventura city limits over night, and police ordered mandatory evacuations for several towns in the area. Officials in Ventura County, Ventura city and Santa Paula have declared a state of emergency. Officials issued evacuation notices to more than 25,000 residents and for 7,500 homes.
The Ventura County Fire Department issued a warning early Monday morning, writing in a tweet, “Incident commander reporting winds are increasing, expect fire behavior to increase over the entire incident.”
By Monday morning, the fire had destroyed 150 structures and one firefighter was injured in the blaze, department officials said.
“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference. “Mother nature’s gonna decide if we’re gonna have the ability to put it out.”
By 4 a.m. there were 500 firefighters on scene, police said in a statement. However, officials said there was no possibility of using an aircraft at night to quell the blaze.
“It’s always difficult and somewhat dangerous to fly at night, so depending on different conditions and the geographic challenges is how they evaluate whether or not they can operate at night,” Ventura County firefighter Jason Hodge told the Los Angeles Times.
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Four helicopters made water drops to stop the flames during the night, but they were grounded by 9:30 p.m. as conditions became unsafe to fly at night, the Times reports.
Thomas Fire is the latest wildfire to wreak havoc on the state. At least 10 people died and thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed on October after several wildfires ravaged California’s wine country.
In a span of 24 hours, more than 18 fires began burning in at least seven counties and collectively burned more than 80,000 acres, Gov. Jerry Brown said at the time.