Fire engines and even dozers were called to the scene of Wednesday’s fire that burned about 30 acres along-and on-Highway 126 that started at Briggs Road.

Brush fire shuts Highway 126 between
Briggs and Wells Roads

May 14, 2014
Santa Paula News

A brush fire that was kept to 30 acres caused plenty of havoc Wednesday shutting down Highway 126, prompting the early release of Briggs School students and possibly causing power failures at Limoneira Ranch and the west side of Santa Paula during the firefight that involved more than 100 firefighters.

Santa Paula Fire Department was the first responder to the fire reported at 1:10 p.m. north of westbound Highway 126 at Briggs Road.

“We were first in,” said SPFD Chief Rick Araiza. “Assistant Chief Kevin Files was initially in command and we had both engines committed the whole time... “

With the gusty winds, high temperature and low humidity Araiza said it didn’t take long for the fire- originally a 100-by-200-foot spot fire near eucalyptus trees on a ramp of the highway-to spread, burning grass and oleander.

The winds carried embers that spread the fire: “It jumped the freeway and was on both side, even the shrubbery in the median... it was a mess,” that could have been caused by fallen power lines that further complicated the firefight and traffic situation.

Early on the Santa Paula Fire to requested the California Highway Patrol to shut down the freeway: “There were a lot of traffic problems, initially we had problems with people slowing down and almost hitting our engines,” said Araiza.

The smoke caused visibility and air quality problems as far away as East Ventura as the number of responders grew to include dozers, helicopter and an air tanker. 

A recorded phone call went out to Briggs School parents asking them to pick their children up at the front of the school.

The fire scene was in the unincorporated area and command was soon taken over by Ventura County Fire and the city of Ventura also responded, as did the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CHP, Ventura County Sheriff’s and Santa Paula Police Department.

The highway came to a complete stop backing eastbound traffic up to Wells Road; soon alternate routes such as Telegraph and Foothill roads were also jammed as the CHP guided people off the highway. Power in the area was affected-the traffic signals at Harvard Boulevard and Peck Roads were reported to be flashing most of the afternoon and nearby Hillview Estates was out of power for about three hours-so SCE crews could deal with the fallen power lines.

CHP officers diverted traffic by having drivers make a U-turn and head west on the eastbound side until a break in the roadway, where they continued in the right direction.

One-lane was opened in each direction at about 4 p.m. but as of 7 p.m. traffic jams continued as firefighters dealt with spot fires and areas still smoldering in the hot, humid air although the winds had calmed.

A witness reported crews tearing out brush in the center median.

It was expected that the highway would remain only partially open through the night because the fire had burned wooden posts that are part of the 126’s center divide. Caltrans workers were expected to work through the night and into early Thursday morning fixing the damage.

It is believed some orchards along the south side of the highway might have sustained some damage from the fire, which was stopped at Todd Road.

No structural damage or injuries were reported from the fire, which came close to greenhouses, although some irrigation lines apparently were burned.

The exact cause of the fire is still being investigated.

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