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Ventura County wildfire consumes 16,000 acres

September 23, 2009 |  3:55 pm


Fanned by low humidity and high winds, the Guiberson fire in Ventura County has grown to 16,000 acres and is 40% contained after threatening oil production fields, power lines and agricultural sites, fire officials said this afternoon.

Flying tankers attacked the blaze on its western and eastern flanks. It was threatening oil production fields and five 220-kilovolt power lines that supply Ventura and Santa Barbara with electricity, said Nick Schuler of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

This afternoon, four maintenance workers stood next to dozens of tombstones at Bardsdale Cemetery in Fillmore, gazing up at the smoke swirling against the hillside. Less than a half-mile away from the blaze, the four men, all natives of the area, seemed relaxed. One smoked a cigarette and the others talked football.

“Fire don’t bother me. The earthquakes don’t bother us anymore, do they?” said Richard Ruiz, 54. “We’ve been through these damn things before.”

Cemetery employees left early Tuesday to avoid breathing in excessive smoke but did not expect the fire to affect operations. No cremations or burials are scheduled until Friday, Ruiz said.

In Moorpark, rancher Ron Warne, 66, was repairing a water main that broke on his property the previous night when the fire reached the border of his 70-acre ranch on two sides. Warne and several of his ranch hands battled back the flames with a water truck and shovels.

The blaze threatened Warne’s some 100 horse and cattle, but he said the animals’ grazing had kept the brush low and the fire spread slow.

“We had fires in '03, in '06, both of them burned right through us,” he said. “Three fires in six years, so we weren’t really scared about this. We know what to do.”

The cause of the fire, which started Tuesday, is still under investigation, but Ventura County Sheriff's Department officials have said it appeared to have been started by spontaneous combustion of manure from a local ranch.

A 10-acre spot fire that erupted earlier today near South Mountain and Balcom Canyon roads was contained and in the process of being extinguished, fire officials said.

The fire prompted the closure today of Moorpark College and two elementary schools, Walnut Canyon and Campus Canyon.

"We don't want these kids out, especially with those elements," said Mike Mohler, a spokesman for the forestry department.

Voluntary evacuations were issued for the area south of Balcom Canyon Road and south of South Mountain Road, said Jane Schmitz of the forestry department.

Residents also are being asked to leave the area west of the 12th Street bridge in Santa Paula, Schmitz said.

An evacuation shelter has been set up at the Gobel Senior Center at 1385 Janss Road in Thousand Oaks.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz in Moorpark

Photo: Crews head out to fight the fire along Balcom Canyon Road in Somis. Credit: Brian Vander Brug

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