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Ventura County fire burns 6,000 acres; caused by spontaneous combustion of manure

September 22, 2009 |  4:02 pm

Fillmore

A Ventura County wildfire fueled by powerful winds and extreme heat has burned more than 6,000 acres and was bearing down on populated areas in Moorpark and surrounding communities.

More than 400 residents have been evacuated and that number is expected to rise as the fire continues to move south toward the 118 Freeway. Pets and livestock are being moved to the Ventura County fairgrounds.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department said the fire started through "manure spontaneous combustion from a local ranch." 

Officials did not disclose exactly where the fire started or how. But spontaneous manure fires are fairly common in farm communities, often occurring during conditions of extreme heat. Temperatures around where today's fire started near Fillmore topped 100 degrees, with wind gusts topping 50 mph.

In 2005, it took months to fully contain a manure fire that broke out at a feedlot near Lincoln, Neb. A man was killed earlier this year in Texas on a fire later blamed in part on animal waste placed in bags in a truck.

Today's fire ate through hilly farm and ranch land between Fillmore and Moorpark.

More than 300 firefighters were on the scene, trying to prevent the blaze from hitting subdivisions in Moorpark. Evacuations have been ordered north of Broadway and east of Grimes Canyon, and in the Happy Camp Canyon and Shekell Road areas.

Officials said numerous structures are threatened, as well as power lines and agricultural areas. They are ordering that large livestock be moved out of the area in the path of the fire. Fire officials are setting up a command post in Moorpark, and the Los Angeles Fire Department is sending resources into Ventura County.

Firefighters were dealing with tough conditions: Temperatures topped 100 degrees at noon in Fillmore, with wind gusts that topped 54 mph. 

Rancher Tom Pedersen and his wife, who live on Guiberson Road near where the fire started, were debating whether to evacuate. A wall of black smoke and orange flames could be seen above the mountain across the road from their home. Pedersen finally decided to leave.

He said the 2003 Shekell fire burned across the street from his house and that he didn’t want to take any chances.

“We’re just going to take our medicine and our clothes and get out,” he said. “In fact, I’ve got to go right now.”

Rancher Brett Everts, who lives on Grimes Canyon Road, was walking one of his quarter horses about a mile up the road to another ranch, where it was safer. He said he had already evacuated eight horses and two cats.

“I still have 100 head of cattle in the pasture,” he said. “But I can’t do anything about that. They’ll be OK. They just move away from the heat.”

Everts said this was the third time he has had to evacuate animals in recent years.

Ventura County fire spokesman Bill Nash said the fire is burning in grass and light brush, but he was concerned that the high winds could cause problems for firefighters.

“It’s moving quickly and we are doing everything we can to keep out ahead of it,” Nash said.

The blaze broke out south of Guiberson Road near the city of Fillmore and was burning south. Ventura County authorities stressed that conditions could change quickly and urged residents to be aware and ready to move if necessary.

No evacuations have been ordered in the city of Moorpark, but that could change if the fire gets closer to the outskirts. Fire resources were being moved to a portion of Moorpark. 

A red-flag warning was issued for Los Angeles County by the National Weather Service late Monday and has been extended through Thursday evening, prompting U.S. Forest Service officials to push back their containment date for the massive Station fire until the warning expires.

With Santa Ana winds expected late tonight, firefighters will keep a close eye on the fire today.

The Station fire, burning in the Mt. Wilson area of national forest, has destroyed about 160,000 acres and was 94% contained, said Jay Nichols, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

--Ruben Vives and Catherine Salliant in Ventura County; Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and Rong-Gong Lin II in Los Angeles.

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