A wind-whipped wildfire in Ventura County rampaged through an estimated 45,000 acres Monday night and early Tuesday, and was threatening homes at the north end of Santa Paula and in canyons to the west.
Flames, fanned by fierce Santa Ana winds, also were threatening Ventura, where dozens of homes were reported to be burning in the area of Foothill Boulevard.
Flames were observed behind the historic Ventura City Hall, at 501 Poli St. high above downtown.
Officials said the fast-moving blaze has destroyed some 150 structures and prompted the evacuation of an estimated 27,000 people.
At least one fatality has been reported.
The fast-moving blaze broke out at about 6:20 p.m. in the area of Thomas Aquinas College, 10000 Ojai Road, and Steckel Park, 8080 Mistletoe Road. It was burning along both sides of Highway 150 north of Santa Paula.
Flames from what has been dubbed the Thomas Fire quickly spread rapidly in all directions.
The fire was continuing to move primarily to the west and southwest, damaging structures in the Adams Canyon, Wheeler Canyon and Aliso Canyon areas, according to emergency radio traffic.
There were reports of multiple structures burning in Wheeler Canyon and elsewhere, and many others were being threatened.
Shortly after 11 p.m., flames were reported west of Sexton Canyon Road, moving toward Highway 33.
Fire officials confirmed a report of a fatality in a vehicle crash on Wheeler Canyon Road, noting that the victim was fleeing the flames at the time of the wreck.
Thomas Aquinas College officials said students, faculty and staff were evacuated from the small Roman Catholic liberal arts school as a precaution, and Tuesday classes were canceled. All students were safe, the college reported.
The blaze was at 0 percent containment early Tuesday.
An estimated 500 firefighters were battling the fire, with more crews en route.
At daybreak, a fleet of air tankers and helicopters were able to join the firefight, although they were being hampered by continued high winds.
Evacuations were ordered Monday night and Tuesday morning as the flames continued toward Santa Paula and Ventura.
“Incident commander expects this fire to impact the city of Ventura this evening,” the Ventura County Fire Department said in a tweet Monday night.
Shortly before midnight, fire officials were reporting some 1,000 homes in eastern Ventura being evacuated.
A separate spot fire along Koenigstein Road in the Upper Ojai Valley had blackened at least 200 acres and was expected to jump Highway 150 and head toward Sulphur Mountain.
Mandatory and voluntary evacuations were underway in neighborhoods along Highway 150, in the canyons to the west, and north of Santa Paula. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the Casitas Springs area Tuesday morning.
Fire officials were making contingency plans due to concern that the flames could threaten neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Ventura.
The Ventura County Fire Department was requesting help from surrounding firefighting agencies, and numerous strike teams of engines and other resources were on order or en route to the blaze.
Night-flying helicopters were requested from Los Angeles and adjacent agencies, but were being hampered by gusty wind conditions.
Winds along the ridgetops were estimated at 45-50 mph.
Highway 150 is closed between Denison Grade in Ojai and Stonegate Road in Santa Paula. Foothills Road is also closed.
A command post and evacuation center were being set up at the Ventura County Fairgrounds at 10 Harbor Blvd. in Ventura.
The fire was blamed for a massive power outage that darkened much of western Ventura County — including Santa Paula, Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura — as well as Santa Barbara County’s South Coast.
Between the two counties, the Southern California Edison outage map at one point estimated more than 160,000 customers were without electricity. Power was reported restored in Santa Barbara County just after 2 a.m.
As a result of the blackout, the bright orange glow from the wildfire was clearly visible from the Montecito foothills late Monday.
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— Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.