Reports: Thousands flee as Thomas Fire explodes to 45,000 acres near Ventura, California
By Faith Eherts, AccuWeather meteorologist
December 05, 2017, 1:11:15 PM EST
Thousands of Southern California residents have been evacuated from their homes as firefighters continue to battle a rapidly growing wildfire enhanced by strong Santa Ana winds.
It is not known how the fire, dubbed the Thomas Fire, started, but officials were already on high alert due to the recently warm, dry and windy weather conditions. The fire was first reported around 6:25 p.m. PST Monday when it started north of the city of Santa Paula near Highway 150.
The blaze, located in Ventura County, continues to threaten many structures and has already encroached into the city limits of Ventura, which is home to over 109,000 residents. Santa Paula is home to about 30,000 people.
Santa Ana winds will continue to whip through Southern California through the rest of this week, threatening to spread these blazes and any new fires that ignite rapidly.
More lives and homes will be threatened, and residents living in the Santa Ana wind-prone areas should prepare for the possibility of needing to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
“The winds will make it difficult to get air support to these wildfires,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said. “Helicopters may be able to aid firefighters, but the winds can be more problematic for larger aircraft.”
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MAP: Fire-related watches and warnings
10:03 a.m. PST Tuesday:
The Creek Fire in Los Angeles County has now charred 4,000 acres, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The LAFD has confirmed damage reports for an unknown number of homes, but there have not been any reports of injuries.
Over 240 firefighters with the LAFD plus additional firefighters from other agencies are working to contain the blaze.
Southern California Edison says there are no reports of power outages from the Creek Fire, which is burning under fiber optic lines.
8:56 a.m. PST Tuesday:
The Thomas Fire remains out of control and has grown to to 45,000 acres. It is still zero percent contained.
While there were initial reports of one fatality in an overturned vehicle, authorities have since confirmed that a dog was killed, but no person was found in an overturned car, according to the Associated Press.
7:28 a.m. PST Tuesday:
Satellite imagery captures the heat signature of the Thomas and Creek Fires in Southern California.
The Thomas Fire and resulting power outages have prompted authorities to issue a boil water advisory in Ventura, California.
6:53 a.m. PST Tuesday:
A second large fire is wreaking havoc in Southern California Tuesday morning. The 1,000-acre Creek Fire began around 4 a.m. local time and the Los Angeles County Fire Department was issuing evacuations for unincorporated areas, according to the Los Angeles Times.
3:48 a.m. PST Tuesday:
The Thomas Fire has grown to 31,000 acres, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. One firefighter has sustained injuries, and 27,000 people have been evacuated.
The blaze has destroyed at least 150 structures, and one of them is reported to be Vista del Mar Hospital in Ventura.
2:30 a.m. PST Tuesday:
The Thomas Fire has now started moving through of the city of Ventura, with firefighters working to protect blocks of the downtown area. Dozens of homes and other buildings are reportedly already burning.
Many are taking to social media to disperse information about how to stay safe in wildfire events. Making sure to keep electronics charged in your vehicle while evacuating, dressing to cover as much skin as possible, breathing through a mask or bandanna and sheltering in a body of water as a last resort are pieces of advice many may need to heed.
#ThomasFire: If you are unable to escape the fire, locate the closest body of water (pool, pond, lake, etc.) and stay in the water.
— VCscanner (@VCscanner) December 5, 2017
The coverage of this fire has increased to 26,000 acres while still at zero percent containment.
Helicopters have reportedly taken advantage of the recent lull in the wind to begin dumping water on affected areas.
12:10 a.m. PST Tuesday:
As many as 30 mobile homes have been lost to the Thomas Fire so far as it continues to race towards Ventura.
Over 1,000 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders, with many of these located in northern and eastern Ventura. Over 260,000 customers are without power in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department is reportedly assisting in the fight against the Thomas Fire.
“The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people and protect structures.”
The fire has been raging for about five hours and has grown to cover 25,000 acres and is zero percent contained.
It is relatively cold in this area, with temperatures currently in the 30s F away from the coast. Despite this, the incredibly dry and windy weather made conditions conducive for a fire to start and spread.
“The relative humidity will remain around 10 percent the rest of tonight and be in the 10- to 20-percent range much of the day Tuesday as well,” said Pydynowski.
10:49 p.m. PST Monday:
Mandatory evacuations have been issued for some Ventura neighborhoods. Officials are urging people to leave the area, even where evacuation notices are not in place, due to how quickly the fire is spreading.
One fatality has been attributed to this fire due to an automobile accident.
The fire has now consumed 10,000 acres and is posing an increasingly dangerous threat to the city of Ventura where widespread power outages are occurring.
A news conference is scheduled for 11:00 p.m. PST at Santa Paula fire station no. 82.
10:07 p.m. PST Monday:
The coverage of the Thomas Fire has increased to 5,000 acres. Officials say the steep terrain and strong winds have combined to make this rapidly spreading fire particularly difficult and dangerous to contain.
All of northern Santa Paula has been evacuated, and officials expect the fire to impact the city of Ventura by Tuesday morning, where school has been canceled for Tuesday.
A list of evacuations and evacuation shelters can be found here.
A power outage is currently impacting Santa Barbara amid gusty winds and the nearby fire event.
8:55 p.m. PST Monday:
The Thomas Fire has reportedly burned 2,500 acres and has now prompted mandatory evacuations for residents of over 500 homes outside of Santa Paula.
Thomas Aquinas College, located off the closed portion of Highway 150, evacuated as a precaution earlier this evening.
*** FIRE ALERT ***
A large brush fire has struck the area around Steckel Park, just south of the Thomas Aquinas College campus. As a precaution, all students are being evacuated to nearby homes. Please pray for the safety of all those affected!
— ThomasAquinasCollege (@TACollege) December 5, 2017
The fire is now headed towards Wheeler Canyon, home of one of the largest fires in California history. Wheeler Fire devastated the region in 1985, and the valley has not burned since.
Winds continue to gust at 40 mph out of the east. The relative humidity is very low as well, at only 21 percent. Both the dry conditions and strong winds are expected to persist through the night, making this a particularly dangerous wildfire situation.
#ThomasFire is currently 2500 acres with 0% perimeter containment. Firefighter’s priorities are structured defense and evacuations of residence north of foothill Road in the city of Santa Paula. #vcfd @VCFD
— VCFD PIO (@VCFD_PIO) December 5, 2017
8:30 p.m. PST Monday:
The Thomas Fire has burned about 500 acres of dry brush in an area which officials report hasn’t burned in about 30 years.
While some evacuations have been issued for campgrounds and some Santa Paula residents, no widespread evacuations have been ordered for the city.
Highway 150 has been shut down near the evacuation area, and the Santa Paula Fire Department has urged residents to “prepare for that possibility.”
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