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Wildfires In Southern California Force Thousands Of People To Flee

Updated at 6:50 a.m. ET

Thousands of people on Monday were forced to flee wildfires that engulfed some 26,000 acres in Southern California just north of Los Angeles, weeks after firefighters farther north in wine country managed to contain the deadliest blazes in the state's history.

At least one death in Ventura County has been attributed to the fire, where 1,000 homes in Ventura, Santa Paula and Ojai were evacuated, according to authorities.

In the latest incident report, the Thomas Fire is described as "a fast moving, active brush fire that started north of Santa Paula near Highway 150 and is now burning west toward the city of Ventura and Highway 33."

The Los Angeles Times reports: "Multiple structures — including at least one large apartment complex — were consumed by flames, and many more were threatened."

Emergency officials said strong winds with gusts up to 60 mph were helping drive the blaze.

Lance Orozco, the news director at member station KCLU in Thousand Oaks, says he drove the length of Ventura County to get a look at the extent of the fire.

"There's probably about a 7- or 8-mile stretch of flames that runs through the mountains behind the city and in some cases reaches down to the neighborhoods themselves," Orozco says.

A mandatory evacuation has been ordered for nearly 8,000 homes in several areas near the wildfire. Officials say about 500 firefighters were either on scene or en route to fight the fire, and that fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters would be dispatched at daylight on Tuesday morning.

The latest wildfire follows a series of blazes in October that killed 44 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 homes and other structures as they tore through more than 200,000 acres in the wine country in and around Sonoma and Napa counties. They were the deadliest fires in California's history.

"We urge you, you must abide by these evacuation notices," Ventura County Sheriff Jeff Dean told reporters on Monday. "We saw the disasters and the losses that happened up north in Sonoma and this is a fast, very dangerous moving fire."

On Monday, Mark Ghilarducci, the director of California's Office of Emergency Services told lawmakers at the state capitol in Sacramento that the failure of privately operated communication services, such as cellphone and internet, severely impeded rescue efforts in October.

"The government does not really have authority over [those privately run services] to ensure that that redundancy and resiliency is put in place," he said.

According to The Associated Press, those fires "spread at night as many victims slept, knocking out cellphones, land lines, internet and cable television in some areas" hindering alert services.

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