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California blaze threatens fig, avocado orchards; easing winds help firefighters

California blaze threatens fig, avocado orchards; easing winds help firefighters
A plane drops fire retardant on the Maria Fire in the early morning in Santa Paula, California, U.S. November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Dreifuss. -
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DANIEL DREIFUSS(Reuters)
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By Rollo Ross

LOSANGELES (Reuters) – A fast-moving scrub fire threatened orchards and farms in Southern California on Friday, but fierce Santa Ana winds eased, helping firefighters tame a rash of wildfires that forced thousands from their homes.

The new wildfires roared to life in hilly farm communities outside Los Angeles on Thursday, destroying homes and forcing yet more evacuations before the Santa Ana winds lost their punch overnight.

The Maria Fire swelled to over 8,700 acres (3,520 hectares) near Santa Paula, Ventura County, threatening millions of dollars in fruit crops and some 1,800 homes and other structures, according to the county fire department. About 7,500 residents were ordered to find lodgings elsewhere for Halloween night, and dozens of schools were closed on Friday.

“It’s going to eventually run out of fuel,” Ventura County Assistant Fire Chief John McNeil told reporters. “We’re looking at maybe 12,000 acres at the biggest footprint on this.”

East of Los Angeles, the Hillside Fire scorched 200 acres (80 hectares) of the San Bernardino National Forest, burning residential areas in the north end of the city of San Bernardino, but by Friday afternoon was 70% contained, the county’s fire department said.

The dry Santa Ana winds that howl down from the mountains every autumn in Southern California were forecast to abate on Friday, although there could still be fire-fuelling gusts of 15 to 20 miles per hour (25 to 32 km per hour), the National Weather Service said.

A fire that erupted early on Monday near the famed Getty Center art museum in west Los Angeles threatened thousands of homes in some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods but was largely suppressed, with containment listed at 66%.

Residents were allowed to return to most of the 10,000 homes that had been ordered evacuated. The museum emerged unscathed, but about a dozen dwellings were lost in the 745-acre (301-hectare) Getty fire and two firefighters were injured.

About 30 miles (50 km) to the northwest, a fire raged to the edge of the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Ventura County’s Simi Valley on Wednesday, threatening thousands of homes, but was 60 percent contained early on Friday. Firefighters doused flames before they reached the library, helped by a herd of 500 goats that ate a fire break around the hilltop complex in May.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co <PCG.N> acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire, a blaze that charred 77,000 acres (31,160 hectares) of Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco, started last week near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a high-voltage line on that tower malfunctioned.

That blaze has burned more than 77,700 acres and destroyed at least 349 homes and other structures but was listed as 65% contained on Thursday evening.

PG&E, which over this past weekend began shutting off power to 940,000 California customers to guard against the risk of an electrical mishap sparking a blaze, said late on Thursday it had restored electricity to virtually all customers.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Alex Dobuzinskis in Culver City, California, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)

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