Sunday, January 21 , 2018, 9:14 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Despite ‘Wind Event,’ Crews Closing in on Taming Giant Thomas Fire

All evacuation orders and warnings lifted Thursday morning; blaze reported at 272,000 acres, 60-percent contained

A perimeter map from Wednesday shows a considerable amount of containment of the Thomas Fire along the Santa Barbara front country. Fire officials were confident they could hold the blaze in check overnight Wednesday, despite an expected ‘wind event,’ and reduce most evacuation orders on Thursday. Click to view larger
A perimeter map from Wednesday shows a considerable amount of containment of the Thomas Fire along the Santa Barbara front country. Fire officials were confident they could hold the blaze in check overnight Wednesday, despite an expected ‘wind event,’ and reduce most evacuation orders on Thursday. (CalFire map)

This story was last updated at 10:05 a.m.

As residents of Santa Barbara and Montecito waited anxiously Wednesday night to see what impacts an expected “wind event” would have, officials overseeing the battle against the Thomas Fire were giving every indication that the 16-day-old beast may finally have been tamed.

“We’ve got this fire pretty much done,” Chris Childers, a Santa Barbara County Fire Department battalion chief, told a small crowd gathered at San Marcos High School near Goleta. “So tomorrow night at this time, hopefully you’ll all be back in your homes and I’ll be happy.”

He was right, as all evacuation orders and warnings were lifted Thursday morning for Santa Barbara County areas. 

About 16,000 people had still been under mandatory evacuation orders, some who have been out of their homes for nearly two weeks. Another 12,000 were under evacuation warnings.

“Right now we have some really good news — that we have secured the Santa Barbara side of this fire, and believe we’ve done it so well that now we’re getting the test,” Childers said Wednesday night. “The wind test that’s coming tonight will be the true test to see that we’ve done our job correctly.”

As of 7 a.m. Thursday, CalFire officials said the fire had little activity overnight due to the winds, and that firefighters had been able to contain spot fires that jumped over their line at Gibraltar Road. The strong winds, forecast through Thursday morning, were comparable to the winds that pushed the fire into the Montecito area on Saturday, officials said. 

The Thomas Fire grew 200 acres overnight, to 272,200, and was still 60-percent contained.

A Red Flag Fire Weather Warning was in effect from 6 p.m. Wednesday until 10 a.m. Thursday, with forecasters calling for downslope north winds of 20-30 mph, with gusts to 50 mph.

A Wind Advisory that also was in effect was scheduled to expire at 3 a.m., and Childers told Noozhawk he expected the winds to subside in the morning hours Thursday.

A sprawling cloud from a passing cold front passes over the Thomas Fire burn area in the mountains above Santa Barbara on Wednesday. Click to view larger
A sprawling cloud from a passing cold front passes over the Thomas Fire burn area in the mountains above Santa Barbara on Wednesday. (Bill Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo via Instagram)

Shortly after midnight, Childers told Noozhawk that the winds had been blowing throughout the evening, and overall things were progressing well.

“By daybreak we should have a pretty good idea where we stand,” he added.

Ray Ford: Thomas Fire Causes Serious Damage to Front Country Trails

The giant fire, which was sparked Dec. 4 near Santa Paula, is now the second largest fire in recorded history in the state, and it likely will eclipse No. 1 on the the list, the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County, which blackened 273,246 acres.

As they were for Saturday’s wind-driven fire storm, which saw the blaze expand by more than 11,000 acres in about 12 hours, dozens of fire engines were stationed in threatened neighborhoods in the foothills, and dozens more were staged to respond if needed.

In another sign that incident commanders are feeling confident about where they stand, some 3,000 personnel have been released from the fire and sent back home in the last 36 hours. As of Wednesday night, the firefighting force stood at 5,746.

Fire and law enforcement personnel gave strong indications Wednesday night that most if not all evacuation orders would be eased Thursday if no serious flare-ups occurred overnight.

Scroll down to view a map of Santa Barbara County evacuation zones.

But Childers warned that the expected winds would likely kick up a lot of ash, leading to visibility problems for motorists and a resurgence of poor air quality.

The portion of fire line still not declared contained on the Santa Barbara front country Wednesday night stretched from near East Mountain Drive and Alston Road up along the east side of Gibraltar Road to East Camino Cielo.

But crews have been hammering hotspots and cooling the fire’s edges in that area for three days, and Childers expressed confidence that the containment lines would hold.

An infrared aerial survey was conducted Wednesday morning to determine where the hotspots were.

“We went out a looked at specific areas where there was heat, and now we have people cutting into those areas, dragging a hose with them if they can, and putting everything out, make sure we’ve secured every bit of heat,” Childers explained. “So it’s search and destroy anything with heat.”

Good progress was made again Wednesday on other flanks of the fire, including in the Pendola area in the Santa Barbara back country, near Rose Valley off Highway 33 north of Ojai, and in the Fillmore area.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet at noon Thursday to consider declaring a Local Health Emergency for the Thomas Fire.

The declaration would allow officials with the county or the California Environmentral Protection Agency to enter private property without a right-of-entry form to remove toxic materials and hazardous substances that present an imminent threat to public health and safety.

Click here to sign up for Noozhawk’s free breaking news text alerts to your cell phone.

Sign up for alerts through Aware & Prepare here

For Thomas Fire updates, visit Santa Barbara County's website and Ventura County's emergency page.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >