California fire department, homeowners brace for the return of the wind

LOS ANGELES – After a welcome break in the powerful wind that reason, Southern California’s huge wildfire, crews, and homeowners braced Wednesday for the return of potentially dangerous gusts of wind that may revive the flames.

Some residents are watching in the distance, in hotels and evacuation centres, while others are waiting in their homes and hoping for the best.

Katy and Bob Zappala have had in their home in Santa Barbara, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, despite a mandatory evacuation order that’s been around since Saturday.

“Our cars are packed, we have all of our clothes and jewelry, so we are ready to leave at a moment’s notice, we must have,” Katy Zappala, 74, said Wednesday. “We are ready to jump in and leave, and we keep a good eye on the sky.”

The Zappalas and their cat, Madeline, is still not out of the house because the evacuation order was issued because the government would not allow them back in. They start to run out of food and hope that if they make it through the next wave of the wind, the ordeal is over.

“It is a crucial day,” Zappala said. “You’re always nervous when the wind comes.”

Some 18,000 houses and other buildings remain threatened in Ventura and Santa Barba provinces.

The Thomas Fire, which began Dec. 4, is responsible for two deaths, has destroyed at least 750 homes, and has burned about 425 square miles (1100 square kilometers).

The blaze is 60 percent contained and is now the second largest in the history of California. Officials said that the new wind allowing it to grow in the state’s largest fire ever.

The fire department used three days of calm conditions to bulldoze containment lines, and set controlled fires to clear dry brush ahead of winds expected to whip up Wednesday afternoon.

Forecasts called for winds of 20 km / h to 30 km / h with gusts to 60 km / h by early evening.

That would force the fire brigade to fall back to safe zones, rather than risk being caught by the rising flames.

“When it is pushed by a 60-plus mph winds … you’re not, and extinguish the fire, you’re just trying to get out of the way to clean up its aftermath,” said Captain David Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Days and days of such fierce, often capricious gusts of wind in conjunction with extreme dry weather have pushed the blaze with almost unprecedented speed, black more ground in weeks than other forest fires in a month or more.

It would be an hour’s drive from one end of the fire to the other by the freeway, Zaniboni said.

“It is burned by the city of Ventura, burned by the foothills of Montecito … and is also burning in the back wilderness in the mountains,” he said. “It is done, a little bit of everything. It is huge.”

“Obviously, We are not able to get out of each hotspot,” Zaniboni said. “We are worried about blowing an ember, sparking a fire over the (containment) and, in principle, doing it all again.”

Brian Bromberg, 57, and his fiancé, Wendy, Frank, stay in their house in the Upper Ojai on Wednesday, despite several brushes with death from the first week of the fire.

Bromberg defended their 20-acre (8-hectare) property with buckets of water for hours if burned in the fire to their neighbors and embers started hitting them on Dec. 5. The couple could feel the warmth of the fire as they fled the property with their four horses, and later drove through a wall of fire when it jumped a major highway.

“In fact, We are to wait and see,” Bromberg said Wednesday in the forecast. “I can’t believe that this wind keep coming back. We thought that it was over.”

Around his property, even though the flames went through more than two weeks ago, Bromberg, said the ground was still smoking and smoldering.

“It’s scary,” he said. “It is as if it never ends.”

Those who remain evacuated watching the blaze from afar, in the hope of their houses to survive another possible attack.

“My man has the feeling,” Why are they not letting us back?'” said the 82-year-old Curry, Sawyer, of which the christmas tree is still waiting for her grandchildren to decorate after she and her husband Ray were forced from their Santa Barbara home two weeks ago.

“But they have the’ hot spots ‘ there are and if we have more Santa Ana winds, we go back to square one,” she said. “I’m not sure we’re out of the woods.”


Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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