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A wildfire in Simi Valley near Los Angeles burned more than 1,600 acres Wednesday after sparking in the morning, forcing evacuations at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum as flames approached, according to Southern California authorities.
“As you all know, the fire started this morning and was pushed by really strong east winds,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a 6 p.m. news conference on the blaze.
Fire officials cited wind speeds of 50 mph.
Lorenzen said there are “upwards of 1,000 firefighters on the line right now protecting the community.”
Three firefighters have been injured, according to fire officials. One structure had been damaged as of Wednesday night.
“There’s still significant risk out there,” Lorenzen said. “Stay aware, and be prepared for evacuation. That’s still a possibility. We still are not through this. We have another 24 hours of significant weather conditions and a lot of threats.”
Driven by extreme high winds, the Easy Fire broke out at 6 a.m. and quickly consumed 250 acres, forcing mandatory evacuation orders in nearby neighborhoods and closing Simi Valley public schools, the Los Angeles Times reported.
By 8 a.m., the blaze had already grown to 400 acres, and by 9:15 a.m. the fire had burned 972 acres, the Ventura County Fire Department said on Twitter. As of 11 a.m., the fire had grown to 1,300 acres and was threatening 6,500 homes, according to the fire department. Just before 3 p.m., the fire department reported that the blaze had grown to more than 1,400 acres.
“Get out, and get out early,” said Ventura County fire Capt. Brian McGrath, KTLA reported.
Multiple school districts in Ventura County were closed. A full list can be found at the Ventura County Office of Education’s website.
California Lutheran University, Moorpark College and California State University Channel Islands were also closed, according to vcemergency.com, which is run by the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services.
Extremely high winds were driving the fire, officials say.
“The magnitude of the wind gusts really are going to be a concern,” said Daniel Swain, climate scientist with UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Los Angeles Times reported. “The actual winds that people experience really will be quite extreme in a lot of places, really everywhere except for the wind-sheltered parts of downtown L.A. and central L.A.”
Television coverage showed helicopters dropping water on the flames.
“I’m right in the path,” said evacuee Kris Mae, who had her vehicle already packed for a quick exit in case of fire, the Los Angeles Times reported. “That’s why I left my house, because it was so close.”
Melissa Giller, chief marketing officer for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, told KABC that the organization worked with the Ventura County Fire department to set up a fire perimeter around the library back in May — using goats.
The fire department brought “hundreds of goats” to eat all the brush around the library, Giller said.
Road closures include Highway 23 in both directions at Avenida de Los Arboles and Los Angeles Avenue, Moorpark Road at Tierra Rejada Road, and Santa Rosa at Moorpark Road, KTLA reported.
At 3:10 p.m., the fire jumped Highway 23, the CHP tweeted. Lorenzen said at the 6 p.m. press conference that firefighters managed to beat back the flames at the highway.
An evacuation center has been set up at the Thousand Oaks Community Center at 2525 N. Moorpark Road., KABC reported.
A large animal evacuation center is located at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., and a small animal evacuation center is located at the Camarillo Adoption Center, 600 Aviation Drive in Camarillo, the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services said.
The Reagan Library and Museum houses more than 55 million papers of the former California governor and president, along with more than 60,000 gifts and artifacts, according to the library’s website. It also houses a retired Air Force One aircraft and contains the graves of Reagan and former first lady Nancy Reagan.
“The flames are licking right up the hills, right up to the parking lot,” said library Executive Director John Heubusch, KTLA reported. “I think the parking lot will save the library.”
Where is Simi Valley?
The city of Simi Valley, which has an estimated population of around 125,000, is located in the southeast corner of Ventura County, about 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Nearby communities include Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and Chatsworth.
Where is the Reagan Library located?
The presidential library, dedicated in 1997, stands on a hilltop on Presidential Drive in Simi Valley.
Ronald Reagan was buried at the library following his death in 2004, joined by Nancy Reagan following her 2016 death. The library has hosted several Republican presidential debates.
Other California wildfires
The Easy Fire is one of two major fires burning in the Los Angeles area: The Getty Fire, which started early Monday morning, burned 745 acres and reached 27 percent containment as of Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Another major fire is burning in Northern California: The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County has burned 120 square miles and is 30 percent contained as of Wednesday morning.
East of Los Angeles, the Hill Fire in Jurupa Valley has burned 200 acres, forced evacuations and caused the closure of the 60 Freeway.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had incorrect information regarding the population of Simi Valley. The error has been corrected.