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Local News

Thomas Fire Grows to 65,000 Acres Overnight, Burns Down to Highway 101 West of Ventura

Mandatory evacuations issued for areas in Ventura and the Ojai Valley; air quality warning released in Santa Barbara County

 

The wind-driven Thomas Fire continued its destructive march through Ventura County on Tuesday, destroying hundreds of structures and prompting mass evacuations as it threatened areas in Santa Paula, Ventura and the Ojai Valley. 

The fast-moving blaze, which started Monday night near Thomas Aquinas College on Ojai Road north of Santa Paula, had grown to an estimated 55,000 acres by Tuesday night, and was edging its way closer to Santa Barbara County.

Officials said Tuesday that the fire had destroyed about 150 structures, and another 12,000 structures remained threatened.

As of Wednesday morning, the blaze grew to 65,000 acres. 

The fire forced the evacuation of some 27,000 people and has been blamed for at least one fatality. 

The fire remained at 0 percent containment Wednesday morning, and the cause remained under investigation.

A Unified Command took over with CalFire, Ventura County Fire, Los Padres National Forest, Ventura County Sheriff's Department and the city of Ventura and fire information can be found here.

Tall flames swirl behind a bulldozer working in the Creek Road area near Ojai as firefighters continued their efforts to gain the upper hand on the wind-driven Thomas Fire. Click to view larger
Tall flames swirl behind a bulldozer working in the Creek Road area near Ojai as firefighters continued their efforts to gain the upper hand on the wind-driven Thomas Fire. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

At about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, flames had crested the ridge above Mondo's Beach, Faria Beach and Solimar Beach west of Ventura, and were burning above Highway 101.

In places, the fire had jumped Highway 101 and was burning between the freeway and Old Coast Highway, but it was not immediately clear whether any of the ocean-front homes in the area were threatened.

Crews were on scene attacking the flames in roughly the same area where the Solimar Fire burned 1,388 acres on Christmas night two years ago.

As a result of that movement by the fire, mandatory evacuations were ordered for the coastal area from Highway 33 north to Casitas Pass Road (Highway 150) in Carpinteria, including the community of La Conchita

The city of Ventura declared an overnight curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, starting Tuesday night. It was put in place to prevent crimes, such as looting in evacuated areas, and will be in effect "until no longer necessary," the city posted on its Facebook page. 

A large house goes up in flames in the Creek Road area near Casitas Springs. Click to view larger
A large house goes up in flames in the Creek Road area near Casitas Springs. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

"During this curfew time, no person shall be upon the public street, avenue, alley, park, or other public place or unimproved public realty" in the city limits, the city said. 

Nearly 1,800 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, backed by fleets of aircraft and bulldozers, including two night-flying helicopters.  

Ventura County emergency information is available here, including updated evacuation notices, road closures, school closures, and shelter locations.

Many schools will be closed Wednesday, according to the Ventura County Office of Education.

Caltrans District 7 has emergency road and highway closure information online here.

Crews hose down a fire-damaged home in the Foothill Road area of Ventura Tuesday afternoon. Click to view larger
Crews hose down a fire-damaged home in the Foothill Road area of Ventura Tuesday afternoon.  (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

On Tuesday, Ventura County ordered a mandatory evacuation of the Casitas Springs, areas within the city of Ventura, and eastern and upper Ojai Valley. 

Details and maps of evacuation areas on the Ventura County emergency website here

The United Way of Ventura County has set up a Thomas Fire Fund and texting campaign to raise money for victims of the wildfire. 

Donations can be made by texting UWVC to 41444, by calling 805.485.6288, and through the organization's website here. Checks can be sent to the United Way office, at 702 County Square Drive, Suite 100, Ventura, CA, 93003, with "Thomas Fire Fund" in the memo line. 

Surrounding agencies are sending firefighting crews to Ventura County, including 21 engines from the Santa Barbara County operating area, said Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Santa Barbara County’s Air Support Unit Copter 308 also responded to the incident to make water drops overnight Monday.

Santa Ana winds fueled the growing fire Monday night and strong winds were expected to lessen Tuesday but return Wednesday night and Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

The Thomas Fire burned near Casitas Springs Tuesday, causing evacuations. Click to view larger
The Thomas Fire burned near Casitas Springs Tuesday, causing evacuations.  (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

Coastal and valley areas in Ventura and Los Angeles counties could have gusts up to 60 mph and mountain areas could have gusts up to 80 mph, the National Weather Service said in a special weather statement.

Ventura County has a red flag warning – signifying the risks of strong winds and low relative humidity – in effect through Thursday night, and it could be extended if winds keep up, according to the National Weather Service.

“This will likely be the strongest and longest duration Santa Ana wind event we have seen so far this season. If fire ignition occurs, there will be the potential for very rapid fire spread, long range spotting, and extreme fire behavior,” the warning states.  

Ventura, Santa Paula, and Ventura County have all declared local emergencies in response to the fire.

The Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center evacuated most of its dogs and cats to a boarding facility at the Santa Paula Airport Monday night and Tuesday, and is seeking donations of crates, food and cash to help with the operation.

A vehicle is engulfed in flames Tuesday evening in the Creek Road area near Casitas Springs. Click to view larger
A vehicle is engulfed in flames Tuesday evening in the Creek Road area near Casitas Springs. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

They also expect an influx of stray animals this week as a result of the fire and evacuations.

The city of Ventura and Casitas Municipal Water District issued boil water advisories to customers, advising people to use boiled tap water or bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Lake Casitas Recreation Area evacuated campers Tuesday, according to the Ventura County Star.

Caltrans on Tuesday afternoon closed I-5 in both directions at the intersection of Highway 126 in Santa Clarita due to the Rye Fire, which has burned 1000-plus acres. The freeway was reopened at about 8 p.m.

Santa Barbara County Public Health and Air Pollution Control District officials issued an air quality warning Tuesday as smoke and ash from the Thomas Fire blew into the area. 

Air quality conditions can be checked online here.

The Ventura Botanical Gardens on Ferro Drive burned in the Thomas Fire. Click to view larger
The Ventura Botanical Gardens on Ferro Drive burned in the Thomas Fire.  (Senerey DeLosSantos / KEYT.com photo)

Everyone should limit their outdoor time, especially people with heart or lung disease including asthma, older adults, and children, officials said. 

Most Santa Barbara County schools were in session Tuesday, but Santa Barbara City College decided to close its campus and cancel activities as of 10:15 a.m.

In a statement, campus officials said there was no immediate danger to the campus, but students should evacuate. 

It's finals week on campus, but the school's primary concern is safety, SBCC announced on its website. 

"Rolling power outages are expected to continue throughout the day and shifting wind conditions are making air quality and visibility issues that will likely worsen throughout the day. We will work on a plan to accommodate classes affected by this closure and will communicate that plan as soon as possible," SBCC said. 

SBCC also canceled its Tuesday night speaking event, Reverend Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, due to the power outages and campus closure.

Cal State University Channel Islands announced that most activities on campus would be cancelled on Wednesday due to the fires.

The Thomas Fire caused major power outages across southern Santa Barbara County and Ventura County Monday night and Tuesday, with whole cities going dark.

Power was restored to most Santa Barbara County customers as of early Tuesday, but there were spotty outages throughout the morning.

Southern California Edison said 13 12-kilovolt circuits were out in the fire area and two transmission lines were burned.

Some customers in the fire-impacted area should be prepared to be without power for several days because of the damage, and transmission lines will continue to be threatened, officials said in an Outage Center message

"A local transmission emergency was declared by the California Independent System Operator due to the loss of critical transmission lines serving the Ventura and Santa Barbara area, and has requested additional generation units to support restoration of power for the impacted area," Southern California Edison said.

Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.

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Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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.

A Thomas Fire incident map released early Wednesday shows the fire perimeter in yellow, the evacuation areas bordered in red, and voluntary evacuation areas in spotted orange. Click to view larger
A Thomas Fire incident map released early Wednesday shows the fire perimeter in yellow, the evacuation areas bordered in red, and voluntary evacuation areas in spotted orange.  (Ventura County Office of Emergency Services photo)
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