Thomas Fire Eases into Sunday Morning

Saturday's High Stress Firefight Calms Down with Low Winds Overnight

Firefighter Daniel out of Lathrop Manteca wets a wood shingled roof at the San Ysidro Ranch Saturday morning. (Dec. 16, 2017)
Paul Wellman

After a hellish, day-long firefight on Saturday, the Thomas Fire calmed down overnight, with the smoke clearing overhead in places and the stars coming out very early Sunday morning.

Winds were just low enough for one night-flying helicopter to make water drops onto Montecito hot spots until about 12:30 a.m. It was being fed water from pump trucks at Viola Fields in Carpinteria, reported Alys Martinez of KEYT — which broadcast all night without commercials, as it had the weekend before.

The evacuation maps have not changed as of 8:30 a.m.

Incident commanders added 1,500 acres to the total burned the day before, a sum of 269,000 acres with any structure damage being assessed after the sun rose. All told, on Saturday there were 34 helicopters working the Thomas Fire, which stretches from the Ventura County city of Fillmore, back to Ojai’s Sespe, and roughly east of Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara’s front country. The finger of fire closest to Montecito touches the Tea Fire outline near Mountain Drive and goes up to East Camino Cielo Road. As of last count, 8,529 firefighters are engaged in the battle, and the total cost has risen to $116 million.

Thornton Fire Chief Everett Watkins, working as an engineer on the Thomas Fire, keeps an eye on flames off of East Mountain Drive on December 16, 2017.
Paul Wellman

About 100 fire engine crews were stationed to defend homes throughout Montecito overnight, with a couple dozen commanding officers. A lookout post and more engine crews dotted the east side of Mission Canyon in case winds threw the Thomas Fire over the ridge from the Rattlesnake drainage. Winds maxed out at 36 mph around 8:30 p.m., according to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden weather station, then dropped into steady breezes that stayed in the teens. The weather station on Montecito Peak has stopped sending a signal, said Eric Boldt of the National Weather Service, apparently burned out by the fire flare-up on Saturday morning, its last report showing a 62 mph gust.

The helicopters were back on the job by daybreak, shuttling retardant and water drops across the front country. The engine crews are on 24-hour shifts, said incident spokesperson Rick Crawford, who is a captain with a Los Angeles fire agency, and remain in driveways and along roads.

On Sunday morning, a Bombardier 415 Superscooper made water drops on hot spots along the hillside east of Gibraltar Road.
Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department

The 154 has been closed from the 192/Foothill Road to Armour Ranch Road because it has become a fire-truck throughway, shuttling caravans of firefighters back and forth to their camp at Lake Cachuma.

Among the Thomas Fire’s effects were cancellations of some Saturday flights by United Airlines in and out of Santa Barbara airport yesterday. American Airlines had another cancellation this morning, said spokesperson Deanna Zachrisson, but the two airlines and Alaska Airlines were back flying as usual today. She advises travelers to double-check their flight status while the fire is ongoing.


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