Thomas Fire Grows to 143,000 Acres, Some Evacuations Lifted
The Thomas Fire raging in Ventura County grew to 143,000 acres Friday, even as authorities said they were finally getting a handle on the blaze. Evacuation orders were lifted for much of Ventura and Santa Paula on Friday afternoon.
The blaze prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County. On Friday, the federal government approved the governor's request for direct assistance to support firefighting efforts as at least six major wildfires raked the Southern California region.
"California is grateful for the quick approval of our request and the ongoing efforts of local, state and federal emergency responders to protect communities across Southern California," Brown said in a written statement.
The Thomas Fire has spread to the county line, threatening homes and other structures as it burns along the 101 Freeway and into the back country west of Ojai. It has already over 400 structures, damaged 81 and threatens 15,000 more.
Officials said that 712,000 gallons of water have been dropped on the Thomas Fire, and 4,000 personnel will be battling the blaze by Saturday.
The fire, which broke out Monday evening near Santa Paula and quickly spread all the way to the ocean, was only 10 percent contained on Friday. Expected containment remained unknown, and the cause was still under investigation, according to county officials.
On Friday afternoon, officials identified the only known victim of the Thomas Fire, 70 year-old Virginia Pesola. Her remains were found "at a vehicular crash site along the evacuation route," Ventura County Chief Medical Examiner Christopher Young said.
The cause of death was blunt force injuries, terminal smoke inhalation, and thermal injuries, Young said. Pesola's death is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol and Ventura County Sheriff's Department.
On Thursday, firefighters stopped the southern prong of the Thomas Fire from advancing along the coast, just east of the city of Carpinteria.
But later that evening officials placed the northeast part of Carpinteria under mandatory evacuations, even though the northern prong of the fire was still miles out of town.
That decision, said Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson, shows fire officials have learned lessons of a tough wildfire season.
"A lot of the tragic consequences of the Sonoma Fire were as a result of the time that it occurred — in the middle of the night — and the inability to get people out of those areas," Peterson said.
Peterson spoke at a jam-packed community meeting at Carpinteria High School. Some residents said they came because there was confusion about where exactly evacuations had been ordered — in part because of an erroneous emergency alert sent out and later corrected by fire officials.
It's not yet clear when residents of some Ventura neighborhoods hit hard by the Thomas Fire will be allowed to return to their homes.
But before the cleanup can begin, utility crews have a lot of work to do to repair the area’s infrastructure.
Ventura City Councilman Erik Nasarenko toured three charred, hillside neighborhoods on Tuesday: Ondulando, Skyline and Clear Point.
"This is one of the heaviest hit areas of Ventura," Nasarenko told KPCC on Thursday.
The fire has devastated homes in the neighborhood. It has also created a significant infrastructure challenge, Nasarenko said.
The extent of that challenge is part of the reason Nasarenko can't even estimate when the neighborhoods would re-open to residents.
On his tour, he saw crews from SoCal Edison repairing downed lines everywhere. Power in the neighborhoods was out, and that posed another problem: no power, no water.
"The water pumps that get the water back into the tanks require power," he said.
Many pumping stations are running on generators, Nasarenko said.
He also saw gas crews digging streets and trenches so they can cap gas lines as a precautionary measure.
A boil water advisory that was issued earlier in the week has been lifted for some areas, but not all. The areas that still need to boil tap water for drinking and cooking are bounded by the following streets:
North of Foothill Road
West of Ashwood Avenue
North of Telegraph Road
West of Mills Road
North of E. Main Street / Thompson Blvd
West of Sanjon Road
The city said it would send another update when tests confirmed water was safe to drink again.
In Santa Barbara County, evacuees were seeking refuge Friday morning at Jack's Bistro and Famous Bagels in downtown Carpinteria.
"We have not closed. We're staying open," manager Charla Marshall told KPCC's Take Two, adding that it has been a long week.
As a long-time resident of the area, Marshall was emotional as her team hustled to provide for all the locals.
"It was bittersweet. There were all these people that knew each other. They'd all had to be mandatory evacuated," Marshall said. "Some lost their homes. We had lots of dogs and cats and people hugging and crying. It was just an amazing day and we would never for a minute consider closing because we've been busy all week with these folks."
Marshall said for her it was nice to keep up with how everyone was doing, and it was important to offer something. She said they made a lot of coffee this week.
Still, she said, it's been hard.
"I have never seen anything like this in the 40 years I've been here. It's just really something else — throat's a little dry, eyes are a little sore. You know, it's been really heavy with the ash and the smoke, but we're fine. We're doing good."
87,043 people had been evacuated due to the Thomas Fire, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. Most of the mandatory evacuations were lifted on Friday afternoon. They remain in effect in Fillmore and areas to the west.
When authorities urge people in fire zones to leave their homes, many don't listen — even to mandatory evacuation orders.
"Roughly about 20 to 25 percent of those that we contact actually leave. This isn't the first time that fire has come to the area. So many want to stay in their homes and kind of ride it out," Ventura County Sheriff's spokesman Garo Kuredjian told KPCC.
Fire officials don't recommend waiting.
Below is a list of mandatory and voluntary evacuations provided by Santa Barbara and Ventura county officials, as well as information on where the evacuations have been lifted:
Santa Paula - Boundary of Bridge Road north to Thomas Aquinas, Dickenson Ranch Road east to east of Santa Paula Creek
City of Ventura - North of Foothill Road from Wells Road to Poli Street
City of Ventura - North of W. Main Street and East of Hwy 33 (includes entire Ventura Avenue area)
Oak View - Boundary of Hwy 33 east to Creek Road, Creek Road north to Fairview Road
Meiners Oaks - North of E. El Roblar between Rice Road and Hwy 33
Entire Community of Casitas Springs - Evacuate to Ventura County Fairgrounds - 10 West Harbor Blvd., Ventura
Lake Casitas - North of Hwy 150 heading to Hwy 33 and south of Los Padres National Forest
City of Ojai and East Ojai Valley - City of Ojai east to Koenigstein Road, SR 150 north to north of Thacher Road
Ojai - Casitas Pass Road east to Rice Road, Baldwin Road to North of Matilija Canyon (Includes Burnham Road North to Baldwin Road)
Upper Ojai Valley - Hwy 150 from Dennison Grade east to Osborne Road and all residences north
Upper Ojai Valley (West) - Hwy 33 - Matilija Canyon
Unincorporated Ventura CountyArea- Residents and day visitors of Rose Valley
Ventura County North Coast Area - Boundary of Hwy 33 on the north to Casitas Vista Road, northwest to Hwy 150, Hwy 150 (Casitas Pass Road) west to US 101 and south on US 101 (including Pacific Coast Highway) to Emma Wood State Beach
Santa Paula unincorporated area, east of Santa Paula Creek, north of highway 126, west of Hall Road to Timber Canyon Road
Unincorporated area of Fillmore - The area of Hall Road to the west, Sespe Creek to the east, Fillmore City limits to the south, and Los Padres National Forest boundary to the north
Ojai- Casitas Pass Road east to Highway 33, Spring Street to Loma Drive. (Includes Rice Road east to Loma Drive. Baldwin Road north to Besant Road)
Unincorporated area of Fillmore - Sespe Creek to the west, Burson Ranch to the east, Fillmore City limits to the south, and Los Padres National Forest boundary to the north.
City of Ventura - All mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders have been lifted in Ventura with the exception of the area North of W. Main St and East of SR-33 commonly known as “Ventura Avenue” and all neighborhoods North of Poli and Foothill Rd in the City of Ventura.
City of Santa Paula - All mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted in Santa Paula, for the areas North of SR-126 from the West end of the City of Santa Paula East to Willard Rd and North to Bridge Rd.
Unincorporated Areas Between Ventura and Santa Paula - All mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted North of Foothill Rd. from the City of Santa Paula to the City of Ventura.
City of Ventura - Ventura County Fairgrounds (Red Cross - includes an animal shelter for all types of animals), 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura
City of Ojai - Nordhoff High School, 1401 Maricopa Highway, Ojai
City of Oxnard - Oxnard College Gymnasium, 4000 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard
City of Santa Paula - Santa Paula Community Center, 530 W. Main St., Santa Paula
UC Santa Barbara - Santa Barbara Multi Activity Center, includes an animal shelter for small animals preferably in crates, 516 Ocean Rd., Santa Barbara
Authorities are asking the public to call (866) 387-8911 for help with animal evacuations. Large animals can be evacuated at Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura.
Ventura County officials have announced the following hard road closures.
Ojai, Ojai Valley, and unincorporated areas:
East bound SR-150, from Reeves Rd in Ojai to Stonegate Rd in Santa Paula
SR 150 (Casitas Pass Road) between Highway 33 and the 101
SR 150 at Santa Ana Road
SR 33 NB from Maricopa Highway and Ojai Avenue to Matilija Canyon
Ventura Ave (Highway 150 / Highway 33) at the "Y"
Nye Road loop east of Highway 33 in Casitas Vistas
Grand Avenue - All North bound streets
Foothill Road from Aliso to North End
City of Ventura and unincorporated areas:
Foothill at High Point Drive
Foothill at LaFonda Court
Foothill at Skyline Road
Foothill at Colina Vista
Wells Road at Foothill Road
City of Fillmore and unincorporated areas:
Old Telegraph Road at C Street
Old Telegraph at Keith Road
Sycamore Road at SR 126
Hall Road at SR 126
Santa Paula unincorporated area:
Cummings Road at Foothill Road
Peck Road at Foothill Road
Olive Road at Foothill Road
Toland at SR 126
Timber Canyon at SR 126
Santa Barbara County:
Gobernador Canyon Road from Highway 150 to Highway 192
AMTRAK service has also been disrupted in Ventura County, with train tracks closed from Carpenteria to Faria Beach.
The following districts are closed:
ACE Charter High School
Briggs Elementary School District
CAPE Charter School
Fillmore Unified School District
Hueneme Elementary School District
Mesa Union Elementary School District
Mupu Elementary School District
Ocean View Elementary School District
Ojai Unified School District
Our Lady of Assumption Catholic School
Oxnard Elementary School District
Oxnard Union High School District
Pleasant Valley School District
Rio Elementary School District
Santa Clara Elementary School District
Santa Paula Unified School District
Somis Union School District
Saint Anthony's School
Saint Bonaventure High School
Thomas Aquinas College
University Preparation Charter School
VCOE Career Education Center (Camarillo and Moorpark)
VCOE - operated school sites and classrooms
Ventura Charter School
Ventura Unified School District
Villanova Prep School (Closed through 12/15/17)
Vista Real Charter High School District
The following Schools are reopened as of 12/7/17
Conejo Valley Adult Education
Conejo Valley Unified School District
Moorpark Unified School District
Simi Valley Unified School District
CSU Channel Islands will return to normal class schedules on 12/8/17
The fires raging across Southern California have sent plumes of thick smoke into the air and reduced air quality across the region.
"Our index has six levels, and the highest level is hazardous. Unfortunately, the Ojai Valley has been experiencing levels even higher than that — the levels are still off the charts," said Mallory Ham with Ventura's Air Pollution Control District.
That smoke contains particles that are small enough to burrow deep into human lungs.
The National Weather Service said shifting winds on Friday could drive the smoke back into coastal communities, from Ventura and Oxnard all the way to Santa Monica and into Los Angeles.
Authorities are urging people who live in the area to use extreme caution and avoid vigorous outdoor or indoor exertion.
People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should stay inside.
Close all windows and doors and run your air conditioner, if you have one.