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28,000 acres burned as wind shift pushes California wildfire northeast

Nearly 1,000 firefighters are using a combination of ground teams and air attacks to keep wildfires from destroying homes in Southern California. Miguel Almaguer reports.

Southern California firefighters battled a series of sprawling, brush-fueled wildfires on Friday, including one that had blazed a trail to the beach in Ventura County and was pushing toward Malibu before a 180-degree shift in winds sent the massive blaze barreling northeast, officials said.

At least six fires flared up over the last two days as high temperatures, low humidity and brittle brush left the state a veritable tinderbox. Conditions were expected to improve by Friday evening, according to officials.

The so-called Springs Fire, which howling Santa Ana winds had driven through unusually dry vegetation, was burning back toward the community of Newbury Park around 4 p.m. local time (7 p.m. ET), Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash said.

“We still need to get ahead of this fire and get containment around it,” Nash said.

More than 4,000 homes remained in danger Friday afternoon from the fire, Nash said. Eight helicopters and six winged aircraft joined roughly 10,000 firefighters in attacking the blaze, he added.

By 6:30 p.m. PT Friday, the fire had burned 28,000 acres, NBCLosAngeles.com reported

No injuries have been reported and no homes have been destroyed, according to authorities.

In the city of Glendale, a brush fire erupted just after 2:30 p.m., threatening homes, prompting evacuations at a hospital and school, and forcing the partial closure of a freeway, according to NBCLosAngeles.com.

Authorities were preparing a shelter for expected evacuations of neighborhoods at the base of a hill in Glenoaks Canyon and Chevy Chase Canyon, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.

“If anyone is living in the city of Glendale within those two canyons, please be prepared to leave. It could happen at any time,” Lorenz said.

Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters

Firefighters battle a growing wildfire that reached the beaches in Ventura County and pushes its way toward the upscale city of Malibu.

An eight-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway was shut down for a time on Thursday night as bright orange flames from the Springs Fire raced down scrubby hillsides toward the Pacific Ocean.

"We've got hot, dirty, unglamorous firefighting work going on right now, guys with shovels trying to scratch out lines on the ground," Nash said in the early hours of Friday. "We've got those guys on these steep hillsides in the dark with nothing but the light of the fire and a flashlight."

Dry winds from inland to the ocean and high temperatures -- Camarillo reported a record high for the date of 96 before noon Friday --  had been fueling the Springs Fire. Though the nearly 1,000 firefighters on the scene got a brief overnight reprieve as the humidity jumped and winds died down.

The wind picked up again after sunrise, but by 1 p.m. Pacific time, the wind turned onshore, temperatures had dropped 11 degrees and humidity shot up to 19 percent. Warnings remained in effect, the National Weather Service reported.

“We’re looking good,” Battalion Chief Fred Burris of the Ventura County Fire Department said on Friday, according to NBC Los Angeles. “We believe we’re past the major structure threat at this time.”

“The firemen have been doing a really great job of keeping it away from the houses,” said Sara Mallam, a resident of Newbury Park, near Thousand Oaks, Calif. “It is kind of scary to see it get so close, but they really seem to know what they’re doing.”

Complicating the situation is the extremely dry plant life left from a season in which only about five inches of rain fell, officials said.

"We’re faced with a situation right now where the vegetation on the hillsides, the moisture level is what we typically see in August," Nash said. 

The cause of the fire remained under investigation Friday. There had been no lightning or other natural fire-starting phenomenon in the area when the blaze began, Nash said.

In Riverside County, hundreds of firefighters had begun to gain control of a wind-lashed wildfire that consumed one home and led to the evacuation of hundreds of others.

The Riverside County fire, dubbed the Summit Fire, remained at just under 3,000 acres Friday morning and was about 65 percent contained, according to a Cal Fire incident report. Firefighters worked to improve containment lines around the raging blaze that threatened homes on Wednesday, but one building had been destroyed.

Two of the 650 firefighters trying to tame the blaze sustained non-life-threatening injuries, according to the report.

Additionally, more than 1,000 firefighters were battling a third major wildfire, designated the Panther Fire, Friday in rugged timberland in Northern California’s Tehama County about 30 miles east of Chico.