SoCal Fires Enter 4th Week

Firefighters watch from atop their fire truck as smoke rises from the day fire Saturday, Sept. 23, 2006 north of Ojai, Calif. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
AP Photo
Firefighters anticipated another day of hot, dry winds Sunday as they battled to keep a three-week-old wildfire from moving toward homes at the edge of the Los Padres National Forest.

"The wind is beginning to pick up," said Dan Bastion of the U.S. Forest Service. "These are the Santa Ana winds, from the northeast."

The forecast called for winds of 15 mph with gusts of up to 40 mph.

Late Saturday, authorities urged the evacuation of about 300 houses and a college east of Ojai. The order was voluntary and came after the fierce Santa Ana winds blew embers past the lines of the blaze, igniting at least two "spot" fires.

The winds also prompted authorities to briefly ground their 27 water-dropping helicopters Saturday, but Bastion said all available aircraft will be used Sunday.

Flames were visible on the ridge from Highway 150, which is about three miles from the fire line.

The new fires consumed thousands of acres of brush before burning back into the main blaze, which has scorched 127,569 acres or nearly 200 square miles — since igniting Labor Day. It was 40 percent contained.

One of the "spot" blazes burned about 7,000 acres in the canyons above Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula along Highway 150, about 75 miles north of Los Angeles. The campus was evacuated late Saturday.

Plumes of reddish smoke were visible as students raced between dorms gathering books and clothing.