A wind-driven brush fire raging northwest of Los Angeles prompted the evacuation of hundreds of homes and a university campus on Thursday as flames engulfed several farm buildings and recreational vehicles at the fringe of threatened neighborhoods.
A second, smaller blaze some 80 miles to the east destroyed two houses and damaged two others before firefighters managed to halt its spread.
The two blazes marked a fierce start to a fire season in California that weather forecasters predict will be worsened by a summer of high temperatures and drought throughout much of the U.S. West.
The larger fire erupted at about 6:30 a.m. beside the U.S. 101 freeway and quickly consumed roughly 6,500 acres of dry, dense chaparral and brush near the communities of Camarillo and Newbury Park, Ventura County fire department officials said.
Department spokesman Bill Nash said no injuries were reported.
But live news footage broadcast by Los Angeles television station KTLA showed heavy smoke in the area and flames engulfing several recreational vehicles parked near the evacuation zone. Later footage showed several farm sheds and other structures at the edge of an agricultural field going up in flames, apparently ignited by burning embers from one flank of the fire.
Fire department spokesman Tom McHale told KTLA that authorities were worried people could be exposed to toxic fumes that might be released from agricultural facilities that burn.
"The winds are a big factor in this firefight," he said. "Our concern is with pesticides and fumigants and things of that nature."
An entire residential subdivision called Dos Vientos, encompassing hundreds of homes, was placed under mandatory evacuation orders, Nash said.
Evacuations were also ordered for the California State University at Channel Islands campus, according to a bulletin posted on the fire department website.
More than 200 firefighters were dispatched to battle the blaze, along with several helicopters and planes equipped to drop water and fire retardant chemicals from the air.
A second, separate blaze east of Los Angeles in Riverside County erupted on vegetation in a roadway center divider and quickly swept across at least five acres of brush, destroying two houses before firefighters managed to halt the advancing flames.
Within three hours, the blaze was reported 50 percent contained. The fire also destroyed five outbuildings, 10 vehicles and a parked boat, Riverside County fire spokesman Mark Annas said.
Two more homes were damaged and an elementary school and gasoline service station were evacuated, but there were no known injuries, he said.
Local media reported the fire apparently was triggered by a discarded cigarette butt.
A red-flag warning, declaring what the National Weather Service calls "extreme fire danger," was posted for much of Southern California on Wednesday as high winds swept the region, accompanied by soaring temperatures and low humidity.