Sunday, December 17 , 2017, 7:12 pm | Smoke 48º

 
 
 
 

Local News

No End in Sight as Firefighters Battle 132,000-Acre Thomas Fire on Several Fronts

Mandatory and voluntary evacuation areas expanded in Carpinteria, Summerland areas Thursday night; at least 439 structures destroyed, 85 damaged

 

As darkness fell Thursday, the Thomas Fire continued to challenge firefighters on several fronts, growing to 115,000 acres and remaining at just 5 percent contained.

The known toll from the 3-day-old wildfire also grew, with fire officials now saying that at least 439 structures have been destroyed and another 85 damaged.

The vast majority of those were in the city of Ventura, and officials stressed that the damage assessment was continuing and the numbers were expected to rise.

The blaze also has been blamed for at least one fatality, during a vehicle accident on the first night of the fire.

As of Friday morning, the fire acreage was updated to 132,000 acres and 10-percent containment, partly due to better mapping, officials said.

More than 3,500 firefighting personnel were assigned to the blaze, including crews from out of state. 

Of greatest concern to Santa Barbara County officials is the northwest flank of the fire, which is burning in the rugged backcountry northeast of Carpinteria.

Flames from the Thomas Fire threatened the community of La Conchita early Thursday. The fire was moving west, prompting mandatory evacuations in the eastern Carpinteria Valley. Click to view larger
Flames from the Thomas Fire threatened the community of La Conchita early Thursday. The fire was moving west, prompting mandatory evacuations in the eastern Carpinteria Valley. (Ryan Cullom / Ventura County Fire Department photo)

At a town hall meeting Thursday night in the city, fire officials explained that the blaze jumped Highway 33 to the west Wednesday night, and roared through about nine miles of territory in about 12 hours.

The fire is continuing to burn toward Divide Peak, just inside the Santa Barbara County line, officials said, adding that they are concerned it will flank the 4,710-foot mountain on the north side, near the Murietta Divide at the top of the Santa Ynez River drainage.

That would put the blaze seven miles almost directly north of Carpinteria, which could prove devastating if strong north winds developed and pushed flames over the Santa Ynez ridge and down to the coast.

Bulldozer crews have been busy constructing contingency lines to protect against that possibility, officials said, adding that the fire had not yet crossed into Santa Barbara County.

Mindful of that possible scenario, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department issued expanded mandatory evacuation orders and a voluntary evacuation warning Thursday evening that include parts of Carpinteria, Summerland and unincorporated Santa Barbara County areas.

The burned-out remains of vehicles are visible Thursday in the Matilija Canyon area along Highway 33 north of Ojai. Click to view larger
The burned-out remains of vehicles are visible Thursday in the Matilija Canyon area along Highway 33 north of Ojai. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

Click here for updated Thomas Fire information from Santa Barbara County's Office of Emergency Management. 

The mandatory evacuation area is north of Highway 192, from the county line on the east to Casitas Pass Road on the west, and up to East Camino Cielo on the north, according to county officials.

(Sheriff's Department officials have given various and sometimes unclear information about the boundaries of this evacuation order.)

"The previous mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect for the area of Highway 150 from Rincon Hill Road south to the 101 and included Bates Road and the area known as Rincon Point at the south end of Bates Road," the county said in a press release.

Flames burn along Highway 101 at Faria Beach Thursday shortly after daybreak. A flare-up later in the morning threatened beach-front homes in the area before being knocked down. Click to view larger
Flames burn along Highway 101 at Faria Beach Thursday shortly after daybreak. A flare-up later in the morning threatened beach-front homes in the area before being knocked down. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

A voluntary evacuation area also has been added: north of Highway 101 from Highway 150 on the east and Toro Canyon Road on the west, extending north to East Camino Cielo.

Anyone who needs assistance leaving the evacuation area can call 9-1-1, authorities said. 

Voluntary evacuation warnings were expanded to include "the area bounded by Highway 192 on the north, Highway 101 on the south, Santa Monica Road on the east, and Ortega Ridge Road and its extension through East Valley Road and Ladera Road on the west up to East Camino Cielo," according to the county. 

Other Santa Barbara County areas under voluntary evacuation warnings include:

» All areas from the 5500 block of Casitas Pass Road (Highway 192) east to the county line to include Lillingston Canyon and Cate Mesa, and all addresses north to the county line.

Update map of Thomas Fire as of Thursday morning. Click to view larger
Update map of Thomas Fire as of Thursday morning.

» All addresses along the east side of Bailard Avenue from Highway 101.

» All areas south of Highway 101 to the coast and east of Dump Road to include all of the Bates Road and Rincon areas.

Progress has been made in other areas of the fire, officials said, including on the southern flank of the fire near Ventura, and the northeastern flank in Los Padres National Forest.

There were some additional evacuations ordered near Fillmore due to very active fire behavior.

Some 300 people in the Carpinteria Valley were evacuated in the early morning hours Thursday as flames continued to approach from the east

Overnight Wednesday into Thursday, Santa Ana winds drove the fire closer to Santa Barbara County, and flames were active along Highway 101 between Ventura and Carpinteria.

Highway 101 closed for several hours overnight before eventually reopening. 

However, there were intermittent lane closures due to the fire burning along the roadway, according to Caltrans District 7.

Home were threatened for a time in the community of La Conchita, but it was not known whether any structures were damaged.

Highway 150 was closed at Via Real and Camino Carreta Thursday morning. Gobernador Canyon Road also was closed from Highway 192 to Highway 150.

At about 9:30 a.m., a major flare-up was reported along Highway 101 at Faria Beach. Several homes were threatened by an area of flames reported to by a half mile long by 100 feet between Highway 101 and Pacific Coast Highway.

North of Ojai, the fire was burning near the Matilija Canyon drainage west of Highway 33, with flames moving west toward Divide Peak and the upper Santa Ynez River drainage.

Fire also was reported on the front side of the Topa Topa Mountains.

Schools were closed Thursday throughout the South Coast and in Ventura County.

There are evacuation shelters set up in Ventura, Oxnard, Ojai, Santa Paula, Fillmore and on the UC Santa Barbara.

Air quality monitoring stations recorded hazardous levels in Santa Barbara and very unhealthy levels in Goleta Thursday, according to the Air Pollution Control District.

Authorities recommended that everyone stay indoors, with windows closed and indoor circulation only, and avoid driving when possible. 

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department said N-95 masks will be distributed throughout the South County Thursday. There are not enough of them for everyone in the county, and the masks are best for "those with sensitivities who have to be outdoors for short periods of time," the county said. 

When fitted properly, the masks offer limited protection from fine particles in smoke, the county said. The masks do not come in sizes that fit small children, authorities noted. 

Masks will be distributed Thursday in the following places, and more information is available here: 

» Costco in Goleta, at 7095 Marketplace Dr., until 4:30 p.m. 
» Franklin Community Center, at 1136 East Montecito St., from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. 
»​ Carpinteria's Casitas Plaza Shopping Center, at 5412 Carpinteria Ave., from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

» San Marcos High School, at 4750 Hollister Ave., from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

Scroll down to read the latest air quality warning information for Santa Barbara County.

Click here for the latest Santa Barbara County emergency information and sign up for alerts through Aware & Prepare here

Visit the Ventura County emergency website for evacuation updates and information about road and school closures.

The CalFire incident page has fire information here.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

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.

Santa Barbara County Unhealthy Air Quality Continues 

Flames from the Thomas Fire are visible on the ridges to the east of Carpinteria Thursday morning. Click to view larger
Flames from the Thomas Fire are visible on the ridges to the east of Carpinteria Thursday morning. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)
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