LOS ANGELES — A fast-growing wildfire along the Pacific Coast Highway northwest of Los Angeles that has already forced thousands of residents to flee the area jumped the roadway Friday morning, threatening parts of a premier U.S. naval installation.
Firefighters on the scene radioed that Naval Base Ventura County, which is backed up to the Pacific Ocean, should be advised that flames had leapt the iconic coastal highway that was the only barrier beween the fire and the facility.
The base said on its Facebook page that the airfield at Point Mugu remained open on a mission-essential basis and had not been evacuated, but base personnel were advised to stay indoors. Photos on the site showed smoke beginning to darken the skies at midmorning, but had not yet affected the housing area.
Kimberly Gearhart, public affairs officer at the base, issued a statement on Facebook page, but did not confirm that the fire had jumped the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH): “The base is NOT in immediate danger from the fire. If/when it crosses PCH, it will be far down the coast from NBVC Point Mugu,”
The naval base, with a population of more than 19,000 personnel, operates two runways, a sea-test range and deep-water port.
More than 10,000 acres of rugged, brush-covered terrain have been burned by the fire that began during the morning rush hour near the major highway and commuter route into Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley on Thursday.
Thousands of people have fled the area as the wildfire, which has damaged 15 homes, threatened 2,000 more and 100 businesses in its race toward Malibu.
Early Friday morning, the blaze was still raging and about 10% contained, local fire officials reported. Forecasters say winds gusting to 45 mph will hit Friday morning but taper off in the afternoon and cooling may begin by evening.
Tom Kruschke, Ventura County fire spokesman, said there is effectively a vast field of coals behind the flaming edges of the wildfire that could flare up when winds return.
“We’re going to be at Mother Nature’s mercy,” Kruschke said.
He said high winds, high temperatures, low humidity, plus dry vegetation from the winter drought “adds up to a perfect storm for wildfire.”
California State University-Channel Islands, a school with nearly 5,000 students that opened in 2002, was evacuated. The Ventura County Fire Department said it had sent 20 fire engines to the campus to protect buildings as flames approached apartments on the eastern edge of the university campus.