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Southern California fires force evacuations, burn thousands of acres

Published November 9, 2018
UPDATED. Giant Bicycles evacuated Thursday as the Hill Fire erupted amid strong Santa Ana winds.

NEWBURY PARK, Calif. (BRAIN) — Giant Bicycles USA evacuated its offices Thursday afternoon as the Hill Fire burned behind the company's headquarters in the Conejo Valley, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

"We evacuated at about 3 p.m. It was really close to Giant. We could see flames from our kitchen, and we acted quickly the minute we saw the fire to shut down," said An Le, Giant's global marketing director. "We've been through a few fires, but this is probably the closest one to the office."

"The office is fine and people have been checking on it, but the evacuations impacted a lot of folks at Giant. Many people weren't able to get home with the 101 Freeway being closed. But everyone is safe," Le added.

Le was among the people who couldn't get to his home in Camarillo, and at 4 a.m. his hotel in Newbury Park was put under voluntary evacuation.

"So I drove around to Malibu to head to Camarillo on PCH [Pacific Coast Highway], and even at 4 a.m. I could see the fire was moving very quickly. It's unbelievable, actually."

Giant's office remains closed Friday as the company continues to monitor the fire.

The Hill Fire exploded shortly after igniting around 2 p.m. Thursday, driven by fierce Santa Ana winds that continue to push the fire into the Santa Monica Mountains and toward the Pacific Ocean. By Friday morning the fire was estimated at more than 6,000 acres with zero percent containment, but no houses or commercial buildings had been burned.

About 13 miles away, the Woolsey Fire has scorched thousands of acres since starting Thursday afternoon near Simi Valley. The fire jumped the 101 Freeway on Friday morning, threatening the communities of Calabasas and Agoura Hills and prompting the evacuation of more than 75,000 residents as it moved through the mountains toward Malibu.

Raleigh Electric president Larry Pizzi told BRAIN he could see the Woolsey Fire burning on the ridge above the company's offices in Simi Valley as he drove from his home in the Santa Monica area this morning.

"It was pretty freaky. The fire came over the ridge last night. We had 50 to 60 mile per hour winds blowing," Pizzi told BRAIN. "But our office is still 4 miles away from the fire, and even though there is a lot of open space in between, the winds are blowing west for now so it's moving toward the ocean."

Both fires are burning not far from the Thousand Oaks bar where a mass shooting claimed the lives of at least 13 people Wednesday night.

"Two of our employees who live in Thousand Oaks were evacuated last night and are affected by both fires. One employee with kids had already been focusing on family time following the shooting, and he texted me at 12:30 a.m. saying he had to evacuate," Pizzi said. "A lot of structures are still under threat, and my heart goes out to people affected. The combination of the shooting and the fire, it feels like we are living in the Twilight Zone."

In Northern California, the Camp Fire has burned more than 70,000 acres north of Sacramento. The Camp Fire has all but decimated Paradise, a small town of 26,000 near Chico. The Sacramento Bee reported that multiple people have died as a result of the Camp Fire but an official count has not yet been confirmed. 

According to Cal Fire’s 10 a.m. Friday incident update, at least 2,000 structures have burned, with 15,000 more still threatened, and Paradise Bike Shop owner Rich Colgin told BRAIN in an email that he did not know if his store had burned.

BRAIN was unable to reach several retailers in Ventura County as many appear to be closed today, due to evacuations and/or road closures in the area. By 1 p.m. today, nearly 150,000 residents had evacuated as the Woolsey Fire burned toward Malibu.

Serious Cycling, a store in Agoura Hills, was evacuated. Owner Scott Johnson said his Northridge, California, store remains open and customers from its Agoura stores were bringing bikes in for storage as they evacuate their homes. 

Extreme fire weather conditions, including high winds, are forecast to continue in Southern California through Friday night and return Sunday. Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared states of emergency in Butte County due to the Camp Fire as well as in Ventura County where the Hill and Woolsey Fires continue to burn.

Photo by An Le from the Giant Bicycles parking lot.

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