No Houses Destroyed: Springs Fire Burns 24,000 Acres in the Southern California Wildland Urban Interface

A large plume of smoke towers over the suburban skyline.
Springs fire burning in the wildland urban interface of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

On May 2, 2013, the Springs fire started during conditions that Southern California usually experiences only in late summer or fall. The three factors that influence how a fire will burn were perfectly aligned during the early morning hours. The weather was warm and dry with offshore Santa Ana winds gusting 30-40 mph. The topography was very steep and the point of origin was the base of a 70% slope. Continuous fuels upslope had live fuel moisture levels in the range usually seen in late July.

All of these conditions resulted in extreme fire behavior with long-range spotting. It is important to note that the location where the Springs fire started, off the southbound 101 Freeway between Camarillo and Newbury Park, has seen numerous fire starts over the years. The previous fire starts in this location would generally burn to the top of the slope and quickly be suppressed with aircraft and ground resources at the ridge top. However, the conditions resulted in a fast moving, intense wildland urban interface fire.

Cooperating agencies coming together and working side by side during extreme fire conditions are vital to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and this was the case during the Springs fire. Local, state, and federal agencies worked together to suppress one of the largest wildfires recorded in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Several important contributing factors led to the success of no homes being destroyed during such an extreme fire event.

  • Effective defensible space and newer building construction in the threatened communities were essential for firefighters as they provided structure protection for approximately 4,500 homes during the incident.

  • Having the “Ready, Set, Go” program in place by both Ventura County and Los Angeles County Fire Departments, with strong support by the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, proved to be instrumental in the overall successful outcome.

  • The challenges of communications during a fast-moving and dynamic incident such as the Springs fire can be overwhelming. Prior to fire season, cooperator meetings and the professional relationships built over time among local, state, and federal agencies created the trust that paved the way for safe and efficient use of resources.

Although the 2013 Springs fire burned approximately 24,000 acres—largely public open space—the successful outcome of no homes being destroyed is a testament to the solid working relationships between cooperating agencies in this complex environment.

Contact: Mike Wilson, fire communication and education specialist
Email: e-mail us
Phone: (805)370-2364

Last updated: January 19, 2017