Four held in arson probe after Southern California wildfire

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Strong Santa Ana winds sent a brush fire surging dangerously close to luxury homes Tuesday and four teen-agers were arrested for investigation of arson.

The fire erupted about 2:20 a.m. and spread over 600 acres before it was fully contained with no homes lost, Ventura County Fire Department spokeswoman Sandi Wells said.

Three 16-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man were arrested for investigation of arson, sheriff's Sgt. Ron Nelson said. Authorities said the four were taken into custody near the fire. No other details were released.

More than 600 firefighters aided by water-dropping helicopters and retardant-dropping air tankers battled flames that licked within 100 feet of back yards.

Authorities notified residents before dawn that they might have to evacuate, but wind and flames began to subside as daylight arrived.

In the meantime, some residents in the city of 120,000 about 40 miles west of Los Angeles had begun to get ready to leave.

Gwen Schakett packed up a few treasures inside her multimillion-dollar Country Valley Drive home as the fire burned before dawn.

''I turned the water on and the kids and I are packing up and leaving,'' a frantic Schakett said by cellular telephone. ''The fire is 100 to 200 yards away. I woke up about 5:15 when I smelled the smoke. I went outside and we couldn't see anything because of the smoke.''

Mandatory brush clearance protected property. Flames burned up against the 100-foot-wide buffers behind homes, Wells said.

The pressure system generating the Santa Anas began to ease and wind advisories were canceled in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, the National Weather Service said. Gusty winds continued in counties to the east.

The fire left Thousand Oaks neighborhoods dusted with ash. Residents looking at blackened hillsides recounted the shock of awakening to the inferno.

Nathan Brian Wine, 50, said flames were within 250 feet of his condominium.

''I pulled up my curtains and saw a wall of flames coming right at me. I didn't know if I was going to have enough time to get myself up and my 11-year-old son out before....,'' the shaken man said, unable to finish the thought.

''This is nothing but pure fuel,'' he said, looking at the rows of condos. ''Once one condo goes, they all could go.''

''The flames were towering over two-story houses,'' said condo owner Kathi Flury, 55.

Elsewhere in Southern California, fires that started Christmas Day continued to smolder. A 369-acre blaze in mountainous Ventura County terrain between Santa Paula and Camarillo was 85 percent contained and Los Angeles County firefighters monitored the embers of a contained, 215-acre fire near Acton.


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