A heavy equipment operator from a nearby industrial facility pulled his dozer in front of the fire trying to create a fire break to help stop the fire. The fire eventually jumped the break and set the bushes along the Santa Paula Freeway on fire.

Fire in riverbed keeps Santa Paula on edge

October 29, 2003
Sunday morning many Santa Paulans awoke to a feeling of unease from the strong smell of smoke
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesBy 4 a.m. Sunday morning many Santa Paulans awoke to a feeling of unease from the strong smell of smoke: outside, they saw that South Mountain was wearing a necklace of flickering flame, just the beginning of the area firefight that ended Monday morning without any losses.The Simi Fire, a Saturday offshoot of the Valverde Fire that started near the county line on Friday, was raging out of control, burning throughout the valley along the south side of the Santa Clara River. Although the winds shifted directions and pushed the fire back over South Mountain and away from Santa Paula, it was just a few hours later that it raced back over and down the mountain.The fire, which burned in the riverbed and caused residential areas of the city and adjacent county to be evacuated, had blown out of town by about noon on Sunday but not before it shut down roads and the 12th Street Bridge, burned power lines and started a mad scramble at Santa Paula Airport to move airplanes out of the way of the towering flames.“Boy, that was close,” said Sally Phelps at Santa Paula Airport.“How’s it going? Pretty good now that the fire passed by,” said Bob Phelps. “It was scary. . .”As Ventura County firefighting helicopters stopped for fuel on the runway, Dianne Williams said the fire was on the ridgeline at 8 a.m. but “came all the way down to the river,” within a half-an-hour and was so close that aviators were sent scrambling to move their airplanes away from the approaching flames.Residents along South Mountain Road fled from the flames and some found themselves stuck when downed power lines closed the 12th Street Bridge, which to passers-by had appeared to be fully involved in fire from the thick groves of arundo bamboo growing in the riverbed.Over 800 inmates of the river-hugging Todd Road Jail, just west of Santa Paula, were transferred by deputies to get out of the fire’s way. SPHS personnel and parents of FFA participants raced to the program site next to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.“It’s really kind of amazing that Santa Paula got through this as well as it did,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.But Sunday afternoon brought new concern as the Piru Fire, which started Thursday and had been contained, suddenly raged out of control along the northern side of the valley driven by east winds, causing a massive multi-agency firefighter effort to stop the blaze at Goodenough Road in Fillmore.“The fire is completely out of control, we’ll be jumping over fire” to protect potentially threatened areas – including the Oaks – if the fire spread through the river valley, said Acting Fire Chief Rick Araiza at the city’s Emergency Operation Center Sunday just before 2 p.m.Of the Simi Fire, Sunday’s “hottest spots were the airport and structures along Cornell,” he added.
Santa Paula Fire Department personnel were called out in full force, with two engines assigned to a strike team and two remaining in the city. The city also received assistance from the Ventura City, Ventura County, Oxnard and Riverside City fire departments, Acting Chief Araiza, who upon learning of the fire had borrowed a car to drive back from a family gathering in San Diego, noted. “We had a lot of help from all quarters.”All the members of the City Council visited the EOC at City Hall and were concerned that the Piru Fire was projected to travel through the north side of the city.“It depends on the winds,” said Bobkiewicz. “They’re going to try to stop it in Fillmore. . .if so, we can all go home.”Bobkiewicz said that as a city official, “I’ve been through earthquakes, a riot and flood, but no big fire. They’re all the same, that’s why the state set up the Emergency Management System the way they did.”A meeting was scheduled for 5 p.m. to review information from the County Command Post in Fillmore and, depending on the news, residents would be contacted about the possibility of evacuation to the Community Center, open and ready for those who might have to flee the fire.At 5:30 p.m. news was relayed that the fire was just north of Central Avenue in Fillmore and that firefighters had set up a line at Goodenough Road where a backfire was being lit.“We should know in about four hours” the success of the operation.The 9 p.m. report from Fillmore was good news: the fire line was holding back the blaze.“Hopefully, we’ll be okay now for the foreseeable future,” Bobkiewicz said early Monday morning, the 10th anniversary of the destructive Steckel Fire.During the fire cable television was lost but the city Channel 10 was operational, offering regular updates on the fire. Also offered was information that St. Sebastian School would be closed on Monday.The Simi and Piru fires had burned approximately 105,000 acres as of midnight Sunday.



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