Pictured: Crews with the Ventura Fire County Department battle the Cornell Fire at highway 126 and Briggs Rd. in Santa Paula on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Screen capture from VCFD video. 

by Kimberly Rivers


Just days after the third anniversary of the 2017 Thomas Fire, residents were on edge as winds picked up across the county. Santa Ana winds blowing at around 35 miles per hour stoked several fires across Ventura County on Monday. The largest, the Cornell Fire in Santa Paula, was started by a large tree that struck a power line when the tree was toppled by the strong winds. 

Just before noon on Monday, Dec. 7, sparks from the power line started a brush fire in the dry bed of the Santa Clara River near Cornell Road. By nightfall crews with the Ventura County Fire Department had halted forward progress and had the fire contained at about 174 acres. 

Incident command set a target boundary early on to contain the fire in the area north of South Mountain Road, south of Highway 126, east of highway 118/Wells Road and west of the 12th St. bridge. That containment box was fairly well maintained. 

While officials said the fire fighting looked “really good” as the sun set, 200 firefighters were still on scene and officials had just asked the California Highway Patrol to fully close Highway 126 at Briggs Road due to fire in the median and heavy smoke blowing across all four lanes of traffic. 

As night fell, Capt. Brian McGrath, public information officer with Ventura County Fire Department, said the winds were much calmer in the area than earlier in the day. 

Remote  cameras that are part of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Advanced Real Time Information Center spotted the Cornell Fire quickly and led to a prompt response. Multiple air tankers and helicopters battled from the air. The Santa Paula Police Department issued an evacuation order for the Santa Paula Mobile Home Park and the nearby residential area.

Crews from CalFire and at least one crew from Kings County were called in to assist. 

Lion, Harbor incidents in Ojai and Oxnard

The Cornell Fire wasn’t the only blaze firefighters had to manage on Monday.

At about 2 p.m., the so-called Lion Incident was called in for Upper Ojai. That incident was also related to a tree coming in contact with a power line, but one engine was able to respond and knock down the fire quickly. 

Then at about 3:30 p.m. on Monday, another brushfire, called the Harbor Incident,  broke out near Harbor Blvd. and Fifth St. in Oxnard. Prior to sunset, forward progress was stopped by Oxnard Fire Department crews and was announced as fully contained and mopped up at 6:48 p.m. with all units released. 

UPDATE on Friday, Dec. 11: As of Dec. 9 the Ventura County Fire Department reports the Cornell Fire 100% contained and status updates were given on two other fires that broke out after print deadline on Tuesday, containment for the Perkin Fire was at 50% and the Main Fire at 75%.    

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