USA — With winds swirling up to 40 mph, flames threatening more than 100 homes, and no water-dropping air tankers to be found, an army of firefighters worked through the night to save a Fillmore neighborhood the traditional way. Aided by a break in the winds, hand crews and other firefighters using bulldozers spent the night building a line around the fire that broke out Monday afternoon. By 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the evacuation had been lifted, and by noon, the fire was fully contained.
The fire burned 148 acres and two homes in the Goodenough Road area in north Fillmore and led to the evacuation of about 160 other homes, but it could have been worse.
Hand crews took advantage of subsiding winds overnight Monday, said Mike Lindbery, a Ventura County Fire Department spokesman. Groups of about 20 firefighters using various tools, including shovels, picks and axes, dug holes around the fire’s perimeter to remove brush and other fuel and keep it from spreading overnight. Two bulldozers also cut fire breaks through the night.
“We got a lot of the work done last night,” Lindbery said Tuesday. “We were able to shift from defense to offense.”
The fire was reported about 3:15 p.m. Monday at a mobile home off Goodenough. It seemed under control, but amid the vicious winds it flared up at 4:45 p.m. and grew to 148 acres, officials said. A downed power line may have sparked the fire.
The mobile home and another house on Goodenough burned, but no injuries were reported, said Lindbery.
Homes on numerous streets, including Arundell Circle and Foothill, Morris, Teitsort and Hunter drives, were threatened.
An air tanker was requested Monday, but none was available, Lindbery said. Bases housing the tankers aren’t usually staffed until May or June, and the tankers could be in different parts of the nation altogether, he said.
Several helicopters dropped water on the fire but were grounded at night. By then, however, more than 400 firefighters from a host of Southern California agencies had responded.
Lindbery said the Fillmore and Ventura County fire departments were in unified command of the effort, overseeing four sections: operations, planning, logistics and finance.
The operations and planning sections worked closely together, checking in responding firefighting units and then sending them where needed, Lindbery said. The firefighters from outside the county were requested through the Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center, which coordinates resources for battling wildfires, Lindbery said.
“When we initially come in, it’s chaos,” he said. “When the ‘intel’ comes in … we eventually get ahead of it.”
After smelling smoke Monday evening, Ralph Rees went on the roof of his Foothill Drive home and hosed it down. A tree on a nearby property was burning, and the winds were raging.
“I almost got blown off the roof,” said Rees, 87. “I would imagine they were going 75 mph.”
He and his wife did not leave the first time authorities suggested evacuation, but the second time around, they decided to go.
“We’ve lived in Fillmore for 60 years and this is the closest we’ve really come to some serious damage,” Rees said.
Tuesday morning, the hand crews and helicopters continued to put out hot spots. The fire was fully contained by noon, and fears of Santa Ana winds never materialized. About 160 fire personnel remained in the afternoon, but by 6 p.m., only two units were expected to remain, looking for hot spots until about noon Wednesday.
Charred palm and avocado trees lined the road up to the burned home, where firefighters rescued a woman about 6 p.m. Monday.
The fire came down the hill and ignited the home’s attic, according to county fire Capt. Barry Parker.
Officials did not identify the property owner, but according to Lindbery, the home is not the historic William Morris property, contrary to earlier reports.
Property records indicate the home is owned by Jean Wokal. Family members gathered at the house Tuesday declined to comment.
Parker said the home’s roof collapsed, but it was not destroyed. In addition to the house and mobile home, a nearby greenhouse and several vehicles burned.
“This was the main firefight here,” Parker said of the home. He said firefighters were at the home for more than two hours Monday.
Joe Diaz, 54, owner of Fillmore Welding at 1213 Goodenough Road, across the street from the burned home, said he’s known the property owner for about 20 years.
“It just saddens me because now it’s gone. There were times you could go up to their place and view the Anacapa Islands,” Diaz said.
Staff writer Jennifer Letzer contributed to this report.