(CBS NEWS) SANTA PAULA, Calif. — Ferocious winds in Southern California whipped up an explosive wildfire that quickly tripled in size, destroying dozens of residences, forcing the evacuation of thousands of homes and knocking out power to thousands more. The Ventura County Fire Department confirmed late Monday night that one death was associated with the menacing Thomas Fire, a person killed in a vehicle accident blamed on the blaze.
Fire officials say the fire broke out Monday east of Santa Paula, which is about 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The flames reached nearly 8 square miles just hours later, and by early Tuesday morning, it had swollen in size to more than 48 square miles. Fire crews were unable to begin fighting the aggressive blaze overnight, leaving it zero percent contained as day broke on the West Coast.
CBS News producer Sean Gallitz said he could see an almost unbroken fire line burning ferociously along the top of the hillside from almost 20 miles away from on the 101 freeway.
Fire department spokesman Richard Macklin said 150 residences were destroyed in the fire, CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas reports.
The winds were pushing it toward Santa Paula, a city of some 30,000 people about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Most of the evacuated homes were in that city.
A total of 27,000 people had been evacuated and one firefighter was injured battling the blaze Tuesday morning, according to fire officials.
Authorities said that the city of Ventura, which is 12 miles southwest and has 106,000 residents, was likely to feel the effects soon.
“The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people, and protect structures.”
The National Weather Service said winds of 43 mph with gusts over 60 mph were reported in the area and were expected to continue.
The Southern California Edison power company said about 263,000 customers were without electricity in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties as of early Tuesday morning, after the fire torched a key supply line in the region.