The Storm Prediction Center warned of another day of “critical fire weather” in parts of Southern California, including Ventura County. The area remains under a “red flag” warning from the National Weather Service, which said a “long duration of single digit humidities will continue” near the Maria Fire through Friday afternoon.
The Maria Fire’s size had grown to nearly 9,000 acres by early morning, and officials ordered evacuations in an area that covers 7,500 people, officials said, as more than 500 firefighters swarmed the blaze.
But the Ventura County Fire Department said it welcomed potentially colder temperatures and weaker winds compared to the past few days to blunt the fire’s rush down the dry slopes of South Mountain.
“Ground and air resources are strategically attacking the perimeter,” the department said.
Helicopter pilots donned night vision equipment to drop their payloads in darkness, but officials once again warned residents that flying drones could impede efforts after one of them briefly halted operations, KGET reported.
Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, has been hit hard by wildfires this week.
At least three firefighters were injured in response to the fire, the county fire department said.
The ongoing Santa Ana winds in Southern California have transported cold air westward from the Great Basin region, with freeze warnings in effect for inland areas of Southern California.
An unusually cold air mass with Arctic high pressure is sitting over the Rockies and into the Great Basin region, which has set up a strong temperature and air pressure gradient with the air over, and just off, the coast of California; this gradient helps power the Santa Ana winds.
But even though this is a cold Santa Ana, and hot weather is typically associated with wildfires, the air is extremely dry, as is the vegetation or “fuel” for the fires. Therefore, the wildfire danger is extremely high right now, despite the gradually cooler temperatures.
Winds along the ridge tops of the Maria Fire could gust up to about 35 mph on Friday, while lower elevations will see somewhat lighter winds. The combination of extremely dry air and gusty winds will make firefighting difficult for yet another day, before some relief arrives in the form of onshore flow from the Pacific Ocean during the weekend.
“While winds will be lighter than previous days, the fire environment should remain rather volatile … as demonstrated by the large fire that developed in the past few hours over Ventura County amidst similar conditions,” the Storm Prediction Center said early Friday.
Scott Wilson, Kim Bellware, Andrew Freedman and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.