Southern California Thomas Fire forces new evacuations, threatens rich enclave


Thomas wildfire grows to be the third largest in the history of California

Will Carr reports

One of the largest fires in California history was a new evacuation orders Saturday in Santa Barbara County, as residents in the wealthy enclave of Montecito hoped to reduce the power of the wind would keep the flames away from their homes.

Nearly 8,500 firefighters continue to battle the Thomas Fire in the South of California, which has burned since Dec. 4 and killed one firefighter, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and threatened, 18,000 more. The fire has raged 267,500 acres so far, an area larger than New York City and about the size of the Hawaiian island of Maui.

“It’s a beast,” Santa Barbara County Fire department Division Chief Martin Johnson said at a press conference. “But we will kill.”

The fire is now the third largest in the history of California, and moving quickly to the west, cresting Montecito Peak on Saturday just north of the Montecito. Known to the star power of the enclave, the homes of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and many other celebrities.

“It is a beast.”

– Santa Barbara County Fire Department Division Chief Martin Johnson

#ThomasFire – Smoke drifts in the direction of Santa Barbara Airport in the distance, while a wind-driven spot fires burning in the west and among Gibraltar Road.

— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) 17 December 2017

Winfrey expressed her displeasure on her Twitter account.

“Still praying for our little city. Wind picked up this morning, creating a perfect storm of bad for the firefighters,” Winfrey tweeted. It was not clear whether the former talk show host was in Montecito.

Still praying for our little city. Wind picked up this morning, creating a perfect storm of bad for the firefighters. #peacebestill ??

— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) December 16, 2017

Montecito residents piled into the car and fled on Saturday, turning the centre of Santa Barbara in what one resident called “a ghost town.”

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire department,fire-engines provide structure protection at the historic San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California., Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.

(Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire department via AP)

There were mandatory evacuations around Montecito and neighboring Summerland came as firefighters sprayed water on hot spots, sparked by wind-blown embers.

Current Evacuation Zones

— SBCountyOEM (@SBCountyOEM) December 16, 2017

Montecito resident Darren Caesar told the Los Angeles Times, his wife and two of his three daughters were planning to evacuate.

“Look at how many fire fighting assets that they have. I know what they are doing. I trust that they can do everything they can to protect the structures,” he told the newspaper. “But it is the wind. No one can fight against the wind.”

In this image made from video provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire, a wind driven spot fire burns on the west side below Gibraltar Road as smoke from a wildfire fills the sky in Santa Barbara, California, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.

(Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire department via AP)


Cal Fire officials believe wind will ease on Sunday with gusts of up to 35 km / h, but with a lower intensity winds are still very dangerous.

The blaze, located about 100 km northwest of downtown Los Angeles, is now 40 percent contained, despite hot Santa Ana winds have kept firefighters busy to catch up with embers continuing to help its spread.

Firefighters from Kern County, California, work to set up hot spots at a wildfire Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Montecito, California.

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Despite the new evacuation orders, there was a spot of good news for the coast. Emergency officials announced evacuation orders for the city of Ventura were lifted, as the fire has shifted.

If the northern “sundowner” winds drove the fire south and west, firefighters could only hope that it would calm down.

“When the sundowners surface in the area and the fire starts to walk to the slopes, you’re not going to stop,” Mark Brown of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told a news conference. “And we are not going to stand in front of it and put firefighters in untenable situations.”

In this image from video provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire department, a wind speed indicator held by a U. S. Forest Service firefighter on Gibraltar Road on the W. Fork of Cold Spring Trail, shows just how fast and how varied the speed of the wind in the sails down the canyon. In this video, it ranged from 10-33 mph in Santa Barbara, California, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.

(Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire department via AP)


The fireman who was killed, Cory Iverson, 32, died of burns and smoke inhalation, according to autopsy results announced Saturday.

#ThomasFire – Flames burning in the vicinity of overhead power lines in Sycamore Canyon as seen from West Mountain Drive in Montecito.

— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) 17 December 2017

Since the fire began on Dec. 4, approximately 95,000 people have placed under a mandatory evacuation. The evacuation zone near Santa Barbara on Saturday, 17 km long and 5 km wide and the new extension consisted of approximately 3,300 employees.

The cause remains under investigation. So far, firefighting costs more than $100 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @travfed

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