Southern California braces for more fire weather as Maria fire torches over 9,000 acres

"We are not out of the woods yet. We still have 24 hours of critical fire weather ahead of us," one fire official said.
Image: "Extreme" Santa Ana Winds Spark New Wildfires In Southern California
Firefighters control a backfire as they fight the Maria fire early on Nov. 1, 2019, near Somis, Calif.David McNew / Getty Images

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By Phil McCausland

Southern California braced for more fire weather Saturday as the region faced ongoing low humidity and tinder-dry vegetation.

Firefighters in Ventura County north of Los Angeles meanwhile continued to battle the Maria Fire, which spread quickly late Thursday through Friday across more than 9,000 acres, threatening avocado, lemon and orange crops.

"There was some progress, then a lot of challenges," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told reporters at a news conference. "We are not out of the woods yet. We still have 24 hours of critical fire weather ahead of us."

With wind gusts blowing through the area at speeds as high as 35 mph coupled with the dry conditions, the National Weather Service extended its red flag warning until 6 p.m. Saturday for the Ventura County and Santa Clarity valleys and some other nearby areas. Winds were expected to weaken by Saturday night.

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More than 500 firefighters in Ventura County were still working the blaze,which as of Saturday morning was 20 percent contained.

Mandatory evacuations remained in place for the fire on South Mountain and in Santa Paula, but a few orders had been lifted as the fire continued to move.

Southern California Edison said in a statement late on Friday that the Maria fire appeared to have started at 6:13 p.m. on Thursday on South Mountain, a productive oil field near the city of Santa Paula.

The company said it would cooperate with investigators, noting that 13 minutes prior to the fire it had re-energized a circuit in the area that had been shut off in an effort to mitigate the wildfires sweeping across California.

"The company’s top priority is the safety of customers, employees and communities, which is why we continue to enhance our wildfire mitigation efforts through grid hardening, situational awareness and enhanced operational practices," spokeswoman Susan Cox said in a statement.

Utility companies throughout the state joined together in an attempt to stop wildfires by cutting off power to millions of Californians, as a number of blazes have threatened communities across the state.

The Maria fire is just 25 miles northwest of the Easy fire, which ignited Wednesday and initially threatened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

That 1,860-acre blaze was 80 percent contained by Friday morning, officials said.

The Getty fire, which started Monday, has torched 745 acres of West Los Angeles and was 66 percent contained, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said Friday. All mandatory evacuations were lifted at about 10 a.m. local time Friday.