Pictured: The Maria Fire from Sulphur Mountain Road trail (facing south). Photo by Shannon Penrith. 10:00 p.m., Oct. 31, 2019.

by Kimberly Rivers

“I want to assure people, this is not the Thomas Fire,” said John McNeill, assistant fire chief with the Ventura County Fire Department. He was speaking at 11 p.m. on Oct. 31, at a press conference in Oxnard, about the Maria Fire, which started at approximately 6:15 p.m. near the top of South Mountain in Santa Paula.

At 11:00 p.m., Oct. 31, 2019, the Maria Fire had burned 5000 acres with zero percent containment. Mandatory evacuation areas include the area inside of South Mountain Road, Los Angeles Avenue, Balcom Canyon Road, State Route 118. (Note by time report posted at 12:20 a.m. Nov. 1, fire has burned 7500 acres). 

McNeil pointed to differences between this fire and the devastating 2017 Thomas Fire that fed on wild, chaparral covered hillsides, expanding from Santa Paula through Ventura and the Ojai Valley into Santa Barbara to eventually become the largest fire, at that time, in the state’s history at 281,893 acres. He said there is “high confidence” that the Maria Fire will not exceed 12,000 acres, and that the fire will eventually reach the end of available fuel when it reaches the “manicured lands and row crops” at the bottom of the hills. The Thomas Fire did not reach any areas without fuel.

Bill Ayub, Ventura County Sheriff reported that currently 1800 structures are threatened and 7500 people are evacuated. There are about 100 sheriff deputies and volunteers “helping with evacuations and perimeter security.”

Maria Fire, just before 8:00 p.m., Oct. 31, 2019. At the 12th Street Bridge in Santa Paula. Photo by Ron Merkord.

McNeil referred to “access issues” they are having with getting close to structures. South Mountain is approximately a 2000-foot elevation gain, with “steep sections” and in some places “road access is limited.” Large portions of the fire foot print are within private property including oil fields and large ranch properties. No structures have been lost.

McNeil said there will be four helicopters flying tonight and some resources from the Simi Valley Easy Fire were reallocated to the Maria Fire. He credits the mountain top origin of the fire with providing valuable time to issue evacuation orders and get firefighting personnel and equipment poised to push back as the fire spread.

Along with protecting structures plans are in place to work to protect the valuable avocado and citrus orchards that cover many of the hillsides in the area. Earlier in the night officials with VCFD Command directed crews to devote considerable resources to protect the orchards because they “yield high value of money.”

Price Street in Somis, off Highway 118. Facing east. Photo by Victor Cruz.

Plans are already in place for daylight hours, including ongoing air bombardments and the forecast is calling for a dissipation of the Santa Ana winds.

One evacuation shelter is open at the Camarillo Community Center, 1605 Burnley Street, Camarillo. Large animals can be evacuated to the Ventura County Fairgrounds and Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. Small animals can go to the Ventura County Animals Services, Camarillo Animal Shelter,600 Aviation Dr., Camarillo,

Ongoing coverage at: https://vcreporter.com/2019/10/maria-fire-ongoing-updates/

County information can be found on www.vcemergency.com