Authorities closed a major freeway today as flames from the largest and most destructive Southern California wildfire jumped lanes and churned toward coastal and mountain communities northwest of Los Angeles as crews kept an eye on unpredictable winds.
A more favorable wind forecast still called for potentially dangerous gusts, but ones not likely to approach historic levels forecasters had feared, according to the National Weather Service.
"This is good news for the fire crews as the winds will not be driven quite as vigorously," a weather service statement said.
Calmer overnight conditions helped crews protect the Ventura County resort town of Ojai (OH'hi), where most of the 7,000 residents were under new evacuation orders following a big burst of wind yesterday. Evacuations were also ordered for the first time in Santa Barbara County, where the coastal city of Carpinteria was under threat.
Officials closed US 101 for more than a dozen miles along the coast, cutting off a major route between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for several hours as fire charred heavy brush along lanes.
Southern California has been hit hard by four major fires that have put tens of thousands of people under evacuation orders and destroyed nearly 200 homes and buildings, a figure that is almost certain to grow.
Millions of cellphones buzzed loudly last night from San Diego to Santa Barbara with a sound that usually means an Amber Alert, but this time meant a rare weather warning for strong winds making extreme fire danger.
Officials hope the electronic push will keep the region alert and the death toll from the week's fires at zero.
Melissa Rosenzweig, 47, was briefly back home after evacuating from her Ventura house, which has been spared so far while most on her street had burned in the largest and most destructive of the region's fires. She and her husband were about to evacuate again, hoping they will get lucky twice as the new winds arrive.
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