Firefighters Brace for Shifting Winds Rest of Week

Fire Grew by 3,700 Acres Monday; 20 Percent Contained

Wildland firefighters prepare to build hand lines on the Thomas Fire.

[Update: Dec. 12, 12:57 p.m.] As well as the smoke and ash plainly visible in the air are invisible particles that can lodge down in our lungs, Public Health’s Dr. Charity Dean has been saying at community meetings, the third of which takes place today at 4 p.m. at San Marcos High School’s auditorium (4750 Hollister Avenue). Masks, including smaller sized masks for children, to help screen the particles are being distributed free of charge at many North and South County locations:

  • Costco, Camino Real Marketplace (7095 Marketplace Dr., Goleta) until 2 p.m.
  • Franklin Community Center (1136 E. Montecito St., Santa Barbara) until 2 p.m.
  • Santa Barbara Public Library (40 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara) until 7 p.m.
  • Lompoc Home Depot (1701 E. Ocean, Lompoc) until 2 p.m.
  • Buellton CVS, ask store staff (218 E. Hwy 246, Buellton) until 10 p.m.
  • All Santa Maria Fire Stations, except the airport, until 5 p.m.

The Thomas Fire has affected critical transmission lines, and SoCal Edison is asking Santa Barbara customers to reduce their power usage by shutting off unnecessary lights and appliances, using fans instead of air conditioning, and avoiding opening the refrigerator. About 900 Edison workers on fire repairs have replaced 209 of the 519 poles found damaged so far; crews have only been able to get into about 80 percent of the accessible areas.

As a response to school closures throughout the South Coast area, La Casa de la Raza is providing a week of programming for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Starting today and going through this Friday December 15, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., volunteers will work will children doing arts & crafts and playing games. La Casa is located at 601 E. Montecito Street.

Easy Lift is offering free transportation from evacuated areas to shelters for evacuees of the Thomas Fire. Those affected can call (805) 896-7830 for themselves or their neighbors who may need help.

State Street Storage, a locally owned self storage company, is offering free rent for the month of December to people displaced by the Thomas Fire. Jeanne Tekince, Managing Owner of the company said “All of the owners of State Street Storage have lived in the Santa Barbara area most of our lives and we know how devastating and scary fires can be. We want to help in the way that we can and that is by making our facility available for those that have been displaced by the fire.” State Street Storage is located at 4001 State Street and can be reached at (805) 681-3113.

Edison workers gather before heading out to make fire repairs.

[Original Story: Dec. 12, 8:35 a.m.] Despite significant public agitation sparked by the visibility of the Thomas Fire — for the first time — from downtown Santa Barbara, firefighters say Monday night went “really well,” according to public information officer Amber Anderson with the City of Santa Barbara’s Fire Department. The fire grew by 3,700 acres yesterday, a relatively modest increase compared to prior days when it gulped down 50,000 and 60,000 acres respectively. Portions of Romero Canyon were involved.

The most recent size estimate is now 234,200 acres. Of that, 20 percent is contained. That being said, the Thomas Fire got very up close and personal with structures located in Toro Canyon. Anderson said she was not aware of any additional structures that were destroyed or damaged. To date, the total number of destroyed structures is 809; it still remains unclear how many are within Santa Barbara County boundaries. The vast majority are in Ventura County.

As of 7 a.m., the relative humidity reading in Montecito was only one percent. It’s been in single digits since December 8, but this is a new low. “That’s huge,” Anderson said.

The big story, she said, for Tuesday, is the shifting wind behavior anticipated. Currently, northerly winds are pushing downslope about 20 miles an hour. At some point today, the winds will execute an abrupt about-face and start blowing back upslope. Late this evening, it’s predicted to change again, bringing the sundowner winds downslope. “The firefighters have their heads on a swivel,” Anderson said. She added that fire managers have a high degree of confidence in the forecast but very little certainty as to when the wind shifts will occur. Likewise, she said, there’s been a great degree of wind variability within the fire zone’s many microclimates. From microclimate to microclimate, she said, the wind directions have varied greatly.

The 24-hour forecast, according to the Tuesday morning Incident Command 209 report, is: “Gusty Santa Ana winds will continue to push fire to the west with potential for downhill runs into populated areas. Very high fuel loading, critically low fuel moistures, above average temperatures and poor humidity recovery will continue to support fire growth on the west, north and east sides of the Thomas Fire. Extreme fire behavior oscillating between wind and plume-driven runs will continue to hamper control efforts.”

Monday night, she said, more than 85 engines were assigned to home and neighborhood preparation, clearing space, gutters, and expanding the zone of defensible space. No structures were wrapped.

Deployed against the fire Tuesday will be six Type 1 fixed-wing aircraft and 33 helicopters. To date, she said, 2.4 million gallons of water has been dropped and 1.7 million gallons of retardant. The number of firefighters has reached 6,946 in the effort to control the Thomas Fire, which most recently clocked in as a $48.6 million fire. Its estimated price tag is now $120 million, up from the $80 million estimate of a few days ago.


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