Police in California have criticized the person responsible for flying a photography drone over a fast-growing wildfire, saying the device’s flight path created a “dangerous situation” by getting in the way of crews working to contain the blaze.
The Maria Fire, which started Thursday night from a hilltop near Santa Paula, has burned through more than 8,000 acres and appears to be 0 percent contained as of early Friday morning. The blaze is currently threatening nearly 2,000 structures and has placed 7,500 residents in an area west of Los Angeles under evacuation orders, police say.
“Our firefighting aerial efforts were hampered by someone flying… a small drone, apparently looking at photography of the fire,” Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub told reporters Thursday night. “This created quite a dangerous situation. It’s not only illegal, but it hampers our firefighting effort.
“So please, anyone in the area with a desire to do such a thing refrain from doing so, let us get our airborne assets in to fight the fire and create a safe environment for everybody,” he added.
Dozens of schools have announced Friday closures in light of the Maria Fire — one of several burning across the state. And more blazes could potentially spark, as Red Flag warnings for fire danger are remaining in place through tonight for some inland areas to the north and west of Los Angeles.
In other parts of California, calmer weather Thursday allowed crews to increase containment on a few of the fires.
The Kincade Fire, which has burned around 80,000 acres so far in Sonoma County, is now 65 percent contained as of Friday, according to Cal Fire. Nearly 200,000 Sonoma County residents were allowed to return to the area even as the fire was still burning.
“We are happy to see our homes – and each other – safe and sound,” Lynn Darst, one evacuee, told Fox News. “We were sitting at the edges of our seat wondering if we would have homes to come back to.”
Brenda Catelani, another evacuee, told the Associated Press that she and her husband “feel extremely lucky” that the Kincade Fire – which has destroyed at least 140 homes — only came to within 500 yards of their house in Windsor.
“I think when we left… we didn’t think we’d be coming back,” she said.
Evacuations were lifted for two small fires, fed by wind gusts up to 60 mph, that destroyed homes early Thursday in the heavily populated inland region east of Los Angeles. One of those blazes, the 46 Fire in Jurupa Valley, was caused by dry grasses ignited when a stolen car chased by police tried to escape through fields.
As of Friday morning, that fire is 50 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.
Pacific Gas & Electric also has finished restoring power to dozens of counties in north and central California following a third round of shutoffs this week. The outages were scheduled to reduce the risk of additional wildfires breaking out if power lines became damaged or toppled by high winds.
However, about 80,000 Southern California Edison users remained without power by late Thursday night.
The most devastating wildfires in California’s history have occurred in the past two years in the fall, fueled by a combination of built-up brush, dry conditions and extreme winds. The anniversary of the deadliest of those — last year’s fire that torched the town of Paradise and killed 85 — is next week.
Fox News’ Ray Bogan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.