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Tens Of Thousands Evacuated As Wildfire Grows In Southern California


About 80 miles north of LA there is a fast-moving wildfire. We can smell the smoke here at NPR West. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated in Ventura County. And reporter Stephanie O'Neill is right in the middle of it. She's with us now from Ojai, Calif., which is in the mountains. Hey, Stephanie.


MCEVERS: So just tell us what it's like where you are.

O'NEILL: Well, I'm at my barn in the Ojai Valley where I've just evacuated my two horses. And right now the wind is really, really strong. These are Santa Ana winds with very dry conditions. And up in the mountain right above me the tender, dry brush and trees adjacent to this barn are on fire. I can see the flames and thick, billowing, black smoke that's starting to fill up the valley. And this is a big change from this morning when the fire was in the upper Ojai Valley. But now it's moving west and east, and you can see it from downtown Ojai.

MCEVERS: Wow. I mentioned evacuations - tens of thousands of people. What are officials telling people to do?

O'NEILL: Well, right now authorities are evacuating people from throughout the area, and those evacuations have been ongoing since last night. The area being evacuated keeps expanding throughout Ventura County. The upper valley of Ojai is evacuated, although there are people up there still trying to fight the fire. The main highway through Ojai is closed except to rescue vehicles as it heads up to the upper Ojai Valley, which makes evacuations kind of difficult. But people are lining up at the gas pumps, too, here so they can fill up and get out of town.

MCEVERS: What are people telling you?

O'NEILL: Well, people are pretty darn nervous. I mean, we're kind of sticking around, seeing what's going to happen here. And residents are evacuating their homes, and they're gathering alongside the highway and watching the fire move toward town. Those of us with horses and livestock are doing what we can to get them out. I spoke with Ojai resident Mark Pierson, who lives on 40 acres in the mountains above town. And he said he grabbed everything he could and evacuated last night and then drove around to the surrounding towns.

MARK PIERSON: I went all the way around, out to Ventura and back up to Santa Paula, and saw hundreds of houses and buildings on fire from Santa Paula to Ventura. City hall around downtown Main Street Ventura was - fire all around it.

O'NEILL: Some residents, though, have stayed. And they are spraying water on their houses and on nearby trees and shrubs to help stave off the fire.

MCEVERS: And as you said, you know, you're not just reporting on this. You're affected by it. You've evacuated your horses. I mean, how's it going? What else are you going to need to do?

O'NEILL: Well, I got to check on my dog and my cat. I locked them in the house today. And I have the cat carrier by the door and some coveted things that I don't want to lose. And - but the winds are still really high right now. And it's - they're, you know, whipping the flames and spreading the fire really, really fast. And conditions are so dry and cool, so there's a lot of fuel for the fires. But winds are expected to die down this evening and tomorrow, and that should be helpful in getting the fire under control.

MCEVERS: Reporter Stephanie O'Neill on the massive fire in Ventura County, north of LA. Thank you so much, and stay safe.

O'NEILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephanie O'Neill