Helicopter makes water drop on hotspot over a hill near Thousand Oaks, Calif. on May 2, 2013. / AP
LOS ANGELES (CBSNews.com) - A wildfire fanned by a long day of Santa Ana winds raged along the edges of Southern California communities and coastal highways Thursday, forcing the evacuation of a university and hundreds of homes and threatening 2,000 more, officials said.
The blaze erupted during morning rush hour along U.S. 101 in the Camarillo area, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It was quickly spread by winds, which also pushed other damaging blazes across the region.
Flames quickly moved down slopes toward subdivisions, and about 8,000 acres -- or 12-1/2 square miles -- had burned, Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash said.
By sunset, firefighters had the blaze 10 percent contained and some residents were allowed to return home, but a late surge sent flames over ridges overlooking the ocean and down to the Pacific Coast Highway, 10 miles from where the blaze had begun earlier in the day.
The fire met the seaside highway, which had been closed for the second time in a day shortly before, in a relatively undeveloped area, but fire officials worried it would burn along the road and the adjacent hillside into populated areas.
"This fire is a long way from out," Nash said. "It is still growing."
"There's no place for (the fire) to go over the highway. We're staging units at the PCH. We'll try to be in front of it and stop it as it reaches the coastline," Nash toldCBS Los Angeles station KCBS-TV.
The surge toward the ocean damaged at least 15 homes, KCBS reports, and brought a new round of evacuations in nearby neighborhoods.
Marie Turner, 45, was among the displaced at an evacuation center in Thousand Oaks as flames skirted the home she, her husband and her daughters moved into from Texas less than a year ago. She said in a phone interview that they had given little thought to wildfires and feared an entirely different kind of California threat.
"I'd always heard about earthquakes, it was a big fear of mine before we moved here," said Turner.
She said she was frightened but didn't regret the move.
"I'm very positive about being here, and we're trying to make the most of it," said Turner.
The fire was threatening 2,000 homes, Nash said. None had been destroyed, but 15 were damaged and a cluster of RVs in a parking lot was destroyed by flames.
The smoke-choked campus of California State University, Channel Islands was evacuated, and classes were canceled for Thursday and Friday. The school has about 5,000 students, though only a fraction live on campus.
A store of highly toxic pesticides caught fire at a farm near the campus and sent a black cloud into the air, forcing evacuations of the area and bringing an air quality warning, the Ventura County Star reported.
A hazardous materials team quelled the threat posed by the burning chemicals a few hours later, the newspaper said.
Nearly 1,000 firefighters and law enforcement officials from multiple agencies worked to protect homes as temperatures dipped and humidity rose in the night.
"The weather is mitigating a little bit, so we're taking every opportunity to improve our lines," Nash said. "Tomorrow we expect the Santa Ana winds to quiet down, but it's still expected to be quite warm."
Planes and helicopters dropped water and retardant until sunset.
Elsewhere in California, about 100 miles to the east, two homes were destroyed, two more were damaged and 11 vehicles were destroyed in a 12-acre fire that fire officials suspect was started by a discarded cigarette.
Crews for a second day took on a 4-1/2-square-mile fire burning in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains north of Banning, Riverside County fire spokeswoman Jody Hagemann said. The fire, which burned a home Wednesday, was 40 percent contained with only sporadic flames showing.
In Northern California, a fire in a remote area of brush and timber north of the town of Butte Meadows grew to more than 3 square miles, with 70 percent containment, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. Several fires smaller than 300 acres burned in Sonoma, Glenn and Butte counties.
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