Santa Barbara Evacuates As Uncontained 230,000 Acre Thomas Fire Becomes Fifth Largest In State History

Santa Barbara officials expanded evacuations Sunday as the Thomas Fire continues to rage through the Southern California county - burning over 230,000 acres to make it the fifth largest in the state since California began keeping records in 1932. Overall, approximately 8,500 firefighters are battling six wildfires across Southern California. 

The #ThomasFire fire grew by over 50,000 acres throughout the day, with containment dropping from 15% to 10% - resulting in mandatory evacuations for approximately 5,000 Santa Barbara County residents, while 30,000 more were told to prepare to leave, bringing the total number of evacuated or sheltered citizens to just under 95,000.

790 structures have been destroyed and 18,000 remain threatened by the Thomas fire. The immediate concern is the town of Carpinteria - with the fire quickly moving west above the city chock full of dry vegetation that hasn't burned in nearly 100 years, said Steve Swindle, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department. 

The fuels in there are thick and they’re dead so they’re very receptive to fire” -Steve Swindle

About 30 minutes south on Hwy 10, the blaze destroyed 524 structures and damaged 125 in the city of Ventura, with an additional 266 structures destroyed and 56 damaged in unincorporated Ventura County. Harsh Santa Ana winds along with extremely low humidity created ideal conditions for the Ventura County fire to jump into Santa Barbara County Saturday night, with winds gusting at speeds of up to 35 mph. 

Efforts have been made to prevent downed power lines from sparking new blazes, while the Santa Barbara zoo has battened down the hatches and confined animals to their cages. The LA Times reports: 

Crews were cutting lines outside the city in an effort to keep flames from further encroachment and “contingency strike teams” were dispatched throughout Carpinteria in case the blaze manages to cross fire lines, said Newport Beach firefighter Jude Olivas, a spokesman for the Thomas fire response.

The Santa Barbara Zoo was closed to the public Sunday, and its 500 animals were confined to their night quarters. The zoo was outside the evacuation area and not in immediate danger, but there was smoke and ash on the 30-acre property. “We drill for and are prepared for emergencies,” zoo director Nancy McToldridge said in a Facebook post. “We are taking all precautions to ensure the safety of our animals and our staff.”

 

The animal care staff was providing “enrichment,” including toys, treats and puzzles, to prevent the zoo residents from becoming bored inside, said director of marketing Dean Noble. The gorillas like music,” Noble said.

The Thomas fire has forced over 88,000 people from their homes in total, costing an estimated $25 million. The cause of the fire which began on Monday is still under investigation. As we reported earlier, California governor Jerry Brown had a sobering message for Southern Californians after a week of raging wildfires: This is your new normal. 


California Governor Jerry Brown (D)

Offering a grim outlook for the state’s future struggles with uncontrollable blazes, the governor told California residents to brace for these types of fires to become an annual occurrence.

"This is kind of the new normal," he said, adding that extreme fire activity will happen on a regular basis for decades.

"With climate change, some scientists are saying that Southern California is literally burning up," he said. "So we have to have the resources to combat the fires and we also have to invest in managing the vegetation and forests ... in a place that's getting hotter."

As for the three other notable California fires which we will discuss in a subsequent post: 

  • Rye Fire - West of Valencia in LA County has burned 6,049 acres, 6 structures, and is 93% contained. 
  • Creek Fire - North of Lake View Terrace in LA city limits has burned 15,619 acres, 123 structures, and is 95% contained
  • Lilac Fire - San Diego, has burned 4100 acres and is 75% contained

With the other fires mostly contained, the next 48 hours could prove disastrous for Santa Barbara and surrounding cities.