In an unexpected run of good fortune, a shift in the powerful winds that have fanned the SoCal wildfires over the past week and a half has pushed the Thomas Fire – the largest of the six uncontained blazes – away from nearby communities while also clearing the air of smoke, improving visibility for the beleaguered firefighters working tirelessly to suppress the flames. Meanwhile, further south, firefighters have managed to achieve upwards of 90% containment for the Rye, Lilac and Creek Fires:
#CreekFire [final] within Los Angeles City limits, The Angeles National Forest and within Los Angeles County is at 15,619 acres and 95% contained. @Angeles_NF will be posting updates on the #CreekFire moving forward. For current information please see: https://t.co/tc2RrMYuQk pic.twitter.com/FfrJ59PglH— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) December 11, 2017
Here’s a live feed of the Thomas Fire:
It's stubborn tenacity has made the Thomas Fire the fifth-largest fire in California history.
Aside from the Thomas Fire, the five other blazes were mostly contained, allowing authorities orders to lift evacuation orders in and around Los Angeles and San Diego. LA evacuated more than 150,000 people Meanwhile, the Skirball fire - which is presently 85% controlled – was also receding.
Despite the fires' intensity, which left behind scenes reminiscent of a moonscape in some areas, authorities so far have reported only one fatality: a 70-year-old woman who died in a car accident while fleeing from the flames in the Thomas area.
With the Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties the last one with less than 50% containment, videos emerged of authorities using helicopters and air tankers to try and repress the flames. The Thomas Fire still covers about 230,000 acres, and has consumed nearly 800 buildings, and damaged 200 more, during its 8-day rampage.
A #plane helps fight the #ThomasFire in #ToroCanyon, #California. Among the CalFire air fleet are #helicopters and air tankers — huge planes fitted with tanks — that can drop water or #fireretardant on blazes. pic.twitter.com/yYtGDFbRft— nyspin (@NewYork_SPIN) December 12, 2017
As CNN pointed out, fire conditions are much better than over the weekend, but winds will continue to be a bit breezy at 20 to 40 mph through the middle of the week. Ventura County and surrounding areas are under an elevated fire outlook through Tuesday. Temperatures will remain in the upper 70s and low 80s for the week, as humidity remains low.
Still, a "red flag warning" for Los Angeles and Ventura counties has been extended into Wednesday evening, the National Weather Service said. And even as some evacuation orders were lifted, nearly 100,000 people in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties couldn’t return to their homes.
Santa Barbara County Fire's Mike Eliason said firefighters were working 24 or 36 hour shifts, typically on two week rotations. Their priorities were saving lives first, then property and then the environment, he said. "This is the job they all signed up for, so they're all aware of what can happen and how the job can go. I think spirits are good, they've made some saves. I think they realize they have a mission here and a job and they're really working hard," Eliason said.
The onshore winds helped push the fire back up into the canyon, which could help preserve nearby communities even if the winds shift again. "The longer the fire burns uphill, the bigger the burned area is going to be (behind it) so when the wind does shift, it's not going to have anywhere to burn back down into the community,' he said.
Here is latest smoke dispersion model from the HRRR Oz run. Looks like coastal areas of Ventura and L.A. Counties will be affected with some smoke by this afternoon and early evening. Purple/red are most concentrated areas of smoke. #ThomasFire #Socal #CAwx pic.twitter.com/LnHkuznwM7— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) December 12, 2017
CNN interviewed residents and business owners in Montecito and Carpenteria, communities that were still being menace by Thomas. Southeast of Montecito, Megan Tingstrom, owner of the Red Kettle Coffee in Summerland, has stayed open most of the week since the Thomas Fire started in Ventura County last Tuesday. She offered free coffee to the firefighters and evacuees who trickled in.
"Some were crying," she said of the evacuees. "They said they lost their homes." She said residents in Summerland, Montecito, Carpenteria and Santa Barbara are hopeful the blaze doesn't spread to their communities.
"They're nervous," Tingstrom said.
Speaking to the local Fox affiliate, Nancy Eldrige said deputies came knocking on her door Sunday morning. She packed and left. Now, she can't get back into her home, so she came to take a picture of it. "I feel calmer now that I don't see flames," she told me.
She can't see her home from the corner where she has to stand, but she can see all the crews that are lined along her street waiting to protect these homes that have been here for decades.
"I've lived here 27 years. My father-in-law built the house in 1947," said Nancy.