New Maria Fire explodes in California: ‘The end is not yet in sight’

Erin Donalson/iStock(SANTA PAULA, Calif.) -- A new wildfire named the Maria Fire erupted in Southern California overnight, and as crews battled the fierce flames Friday, the fire chief warned that "the end is not yet in sight."
The Maria Fire broke out in Santa Paula in Ventura County shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday. As winds gusted to 30 mph early Friday, the blaze grew to over 8,700 acres. The fire closed schools and forced about 8,000 residents to evacuate.

The fire is 0% contained.

"It has been an uphill battle ever since," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said Friday afternoon. "The end is not yet in sight."

As the Maria Fire threatened homes, power lines and avocado and citrus orchards, first responders and homeowners took to rooftops to try to beat back the walls of flames.

Santa Paula resident Jimmy Gomula said he saw smoke come over a hill around 6 p.m. and watched the area burn until about 4 a.m.

"It was ablaze. The whole mountain was nothing but a red glow," he told ABC News.

By Friday morning "we thought it was kinda under control," he said, but then "the wind kicked up" and "the fire took off running again."

"My place is burning right now, I think, so we'll see what happens," he said.

Aaron Lewis' parents live in the area impacted by the Maria Fire and his family runs an orchard there. Lewis said he's grateful his parents' home survived, but "the fire completely burned through" the family's property.

Lewis told ABC News the fire was about 1 mile away from his family's field Thursday night and there was "zero wind." But then the winds picked up, and within 10 to 15 minutes, "it was already on top of our property," he said.

"At first it was just kind of creeping along, then the flames grew higher and higher," he said. "It's kind of a complete rebuild."

Lewis said a neighbor's house wasn't so lucky and was "fully engulfed" within minutes.

 "It was 300 yards away until fully engulfed in maybe five minutes," he said. "If someone was actually at that house they would've had to run for their lives."

Hundreds of firefighters, who have been working around the clock, swarmed the scene.

"They said they were on their eighth day straight," Lewis said. "They did a fantastic job of making sure everyone was safe."

"Thank God for our firemen," added Gomula. "They're doing an outstanding job."

The Maria Fire came during the last gasps of this week's extreme Santa Ana wind event. More than 10 fires erupted in Southern California just this week.

While critical fire weather conditions remain in Southern California Friday, with gusts reaching 35 mph, the winds will not be nearly as strong as they were on Wednesday and Thursday.

All remaining red flag warnings will expire at 6 p.m. PT Friday. Red flag warning may be extended into Saturday afternoon.

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