Family drives through Southern California wildfire: ‘It was terrifying’ – CNN

“Then all of the sudden, all these sparks and a burning bush hit our car, and we couldn’t see anything of what was around us because of all the smoke. I was terrified and in a total shock. In the end, it only took a few seconds, but it felt like an hour,” she said.

“It was terrifying. We were very lucky. In a worst-case scenario, our car could have exploded.”

On Saturday afternoon, only 10% of the 1,200-acre fire was contained, but authorities were still able to reopen U.S. Highway 101 and Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura County. The highways had been closed in both directions in an area 70 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.

Highway 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway, which is also designated as California Highway 1, are heavily traveled corridors in Ventura County and carry motorists between Los Angeles and central California.

The highways feature scenic vistas of the ocean and mountains. Authorities asked motorists Saturday to use caution on the freeways near the fire.

Maks and her family were driving on the highway after attending the NBA game in Los Angeles between the Lakers and Clippers, and the family was headed to their holiday home in Santa Barbara about 11 p.m. Friday. Maks’ parents and two brothers were visiting from Haarlem, the Netherlands, said Maks, who lives in New York.

“We are a family of five and spending the holidays in Santa Barbara,” she said.

California is parched under a historic drought, and Friday’s winds whipped flames through the dessicated vegetation.

The fire was caused by downed power lines, fire officials said late Saturday.

The flames came within striking distance of area beaches, in addition to “bumping against the roadway,” Ventura County Fire Capt. Steve Kaufmann said in a video posted to his department’s Facebook page.

“We’re seeing fire embers all over the place,” Kaufmann said.

The fast-moving blaze burned through Christmas night and into Saturday, according to Ventura County Fire spokesman Capt. Mike Lindberry.

As of Saturday, some 600 firefighters were at the scene while four helicopters dumped water on the blaze. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, to the ankle and knee, authorities said.

Mother Nature wasn’t doing much to help, with clear or mostly sunny skies forecast for the next week, according to the National Weather Service. But wind is an even bigger problem, including sustained winds of 15-20 mph on Saturday and gusts as strong as 30 mph.

Worse, the winds are expected to shift several times Saturday. That means firefighters will face a wildfire that will change directions, the Ventura County Fire Department said on its Facebook page.

Windy conditions should prevail into Sunday, at which point a wind advisory should still be in effect.

While it’s far from the biggest wildfire California has faced in recent memory, the Solimar Fire is affecting not only travelers but also residents.

People in the Solimar Beach area were ordered to leave their homes but that mandatory order was lifted late Saturday afternoon, fire officials said. A voluntary evacuation notice had also been issued for people in Faria Beach, a short distance up the coast.

Crews on 10 to 15 fire engines fought the flames Saturday morning, trying to protect structures and contain “fire that’s up and down the hill,” according to Kaufmann.

He urged that anyone who leaves for higher ground close all their windows and doors first.

“Make sure everything is buttoned up tight,” Kaufmann said. “If you leave any window or door or garage door open, that’s just an entrance for one of these embers … to get into your house. We don’t want that to happen.”


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