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Whipping Santa Ana winds are playing a huge role in how quickly the Thomas Fire is spreading across Ventura County, California. Fire officials say it’s a “very bad scenario.”
USA TODAY

SANTA PAULA, Calif. — A ravenous, fast-moving wildfire driven by powerful Santa Ana winds scorched 70 square miles near Los Angeles on Tuesday, destroying more than 100 buildings and driving tens of thousands of area residents from their homes.

The blaze quickly spread from the hillsides above this city of 30,000 people, about 60 miles west of downtown Los Angeles, down toward the town and west to Ventura. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Ventura County.

“This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we’ll continue to attack it with all we’ve got,” Brown said. “It’s critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so.”

Wind gusts sometimes exceeding 60 mph complicated the effort, said Rich Macklin, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

“I personally have never seen structures destroyed in Ventura County like this,” Macklin said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep in front of this thing.”

More: Losses from California wildfires top $1B — and is ‘just the beginning ‘

A firefighter was taken to a hospital and was reported in stable condition, Macklin said. Earlier, authorities said one person was killed while attempting to leave when a car overturned. They later said that a dead dog was found in the vehicle, but no people.

The inferno comes less than two months after a series of wildfires roared through Northern California’s wine country, killing more than 40 people and incinerating thousands of homes.

So far in 2017, wildfires have scorched some 1,700 square miles in California, an area roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island. It’s also the fourth-most in the past 30 years and about twice the long-term average, according to CalFire.

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