Ventura County’s fire season continues with the Cornell Fire in Santa Paula


Josh Villasenor

On Dec. 6, the Cornell fire sparked in a dry river bottom in Santa Paula and spread over 175 acres.

Caroline Hubner, Reporter

Around midday on Monday, Dec. 7, a brush fire broke out in the Santa Paula Riverbed, and once again reminded the residents of Ventura County that fire season is no longer restricted to the summer months. This brush fire, named the Cornell Fire, is suspected to have started when a large tree fell onto power lines, and the sparks were carried by the raging Santa Ana winds that blew through Ventura County during this time.

The aftermath of the high-winded, quick spreading fire. (Joshua Villasenor)

Now contained, the Cornell fire burned through 175 acres of agricultural land and prompted a partial shutdown of Highway 126 as officials worried that the proximity of the fire would endanger drivers. A widespread red flag warning was sent to nearby citizens, and Southern California Edison shut off power to thousands of homes as a precaution for electrical fires. 

Fire season in California is normally from May to November, but in recent years wildfires have made year-round appearances. The sweltering heat in summer months and low humidity winds in the fall attribute to most fires during the regular season. 

The Cornell fire was particularly frightening to residents of the City of Ventura who dealt with one of the largest and most destructive fires in California history, the Thomas Fire of 2017. Both fires were started by electrical sparks in the Santa Paula area. Firefighters not only had to fight the fires, but the harsh winds as well. 

A visual chart of the main fires that occurred in Ventura County during the year 2020. (Caroline Hubner)

This December marks the third anniversary of the start of the Thomas Fire. The area has still not fully recovered in this time as many residents who lost their homes to the flames continue to rebuild. The deprecating event resulted in lasting trauma for many, but those that live in the area have found plenty of ways to see the positives. Firefighters are more aware of the fire dangers that go along with the dry Santa Ana winds in the fall, and officials have been vigilant of vegetation that might act as the perfect fuel for another wildfire. More precautions have been taken to prevent brush fires from spreading so rapidly to keep damage to a minimum. 

The most frightening part of the Thomas Fire was its unexpected nature and rapid spread. Thankfully, the Cornell Fire was contained rather quickly, and most residents were able to return to their regular COVID-19 lockdown routines. This year has given the world a shock with what seems like new changes every day, but the vigilance and preparation of the Fire Department have prevented one more item from being added to that list.

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