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Ventura County Fairgrounds Abuzz with Activity as Thomas Fire Incident Command Post

While officials plot strategies to battle sprawling blaze, firefighters come and go between shifts on frontlines


The Ventura County Fairgrounds has been transformed into a buzzing command center where authorities are plotting a multifront attack on the out-of-control Thomas Fire — one of the biggest in California history.

The 230,000-acre wildfire — now threatening Carpinteria and Montecito on the front side of the Santa Ynez Mountains while it also burns northwest on the back side, as well as in the Rose Valley area north of Ojai — is being battled by thousands of fire personnel from local, state and federal agencies.

As of Sunday evening, containment of the week-old fire had dropped to 10 percent.

The 24/7 incident command post at the fairgrounds, at 10 W. Harbor Blvd. in western Ventura, is where firefighters and other personnel prepare for another day of battle, gather to discuss strategies, eat, rest and rejuvenate before heading to the fire lines.

“It’s like a little mini city that can support four to five-thousand people,” said Matthew Chambers, a U.S. Forest Service fire captain from Sequoia National Forest northeast of Bakersfield and a public information officer for the Thomas Fire.

The Ventura command center has mobile showers and some 20 mobile sleeping trailers.

On the fairgrounds, San Miguel Hall has been transformed into a dining space. Shortly after 5 p.m., fire crews line up for dinner.

“No one is going to go home when houses and people are threatened,” Chambers said. “That is why we do this.

“This fire is probably going to be several weeks, and we are here for as long as it’s needed.”

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he said, the Federal Emergency Management Agency adopted a well-coordinated system that enables a response among various agencies and jurisdictions, and allows for the integration of procedures and communications operating within a common organizational structure.

“We can set up a command post for any incident, not just a fire, but all types of risks such as hurricanes, too,” Chambers said. “We can recreate this anywhere.”

Santa Barbara Fire Chief Pat McElroy, speaking Sunday at a packed community meeting at San Marcos High School near Santa Barbara, praised the massive, mutual aid undertaking coordinated out of Ventura.

“There are people from all over the country here,” he said. “We value what they are doing in this community.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhaw on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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