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Firefighters work to slow Ventura County fire

September 22, 2009 |  6:10 pm

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Triple-digit temperatures and the first Santa Ana winds of the season sparked five brush fires across Southern California on Tuesday, including a 6,000-acre blaze that threatened hundreds of homes in Ventura County.

The blazes erupted like clockwork — on the first day of autumn that typically marks the beginning of the gusty Santa Ana winds — and firefighters braced for a tough week ahead with more heavy wind and extreme heat forecast through the end of the week.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist William Patzert called it the “beginning of the beginning.”

“We’re in triple digit temperatures and single-digit humidity ... and it’s beginning with a bang here,” he added. “There’s not much good news.”

In Ventura County, more than 400 firefighters mobilized to combat the fast-moving Moorpark wildfire, which started just south of Fillmore near Guiberson Road and ate through miles of rugged hillsides and agricultural land until it reached the outskirts of Moorpark.

The fire raced though terrain covered in grass but without the dense combustible brush that fueled the massive Station fire. But even without heavy fuel, the fire was pushed south by wind gusts of more than 50 mph.

Hundreds of residents were evacuated north of Broadway and east of Grimes Canyon, and in the Happy Camp Canyon and Shekell Road areas.

By 6 p.m., the winds had died down, slowing the fire and allowing officials to build up defenses north of Moorpark. Fire officials said they believed some outbuildings and agricultural structures had been destroyed but that they would not know whether homes burned until they could get into the fire zone for surveying. So far, the fire has stayed in agricultural areas and not come close to subdivisions.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said the fire appears to have been started by a “manure spontaneous combustion from a local ranch.”

Officials did not disclose exactly where the fire started, but spontaneous manure fires are fairly common in farm communities, often occurring during conditions of extreme heat.

--Catherine Saillant in Fillmore, Ruben Vives in Moorpark, and Kimi Yoshino, Richard Winton, Rong-Gong Lin II and Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles.

Photos: (top) Ventura County firefighters direct water at flames approaching along Grimes Canyon Road in Fillmore. (inset) Fire that jumped California Route 23 burns across hillside above a ranch house along Grimes Canyon Road. Credits: Lawrence K. Ho and Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

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Photos: California wildfires Interactive maps: Ventura | Inland Empire
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