With the Thomas Fire being kept successfully in check since Sunday morning — and no big clouds of smoke shrouding the horizon — thousands of evacuated South Coast residents are growing increasingly restive about being kept out of their homes, especially with Christmas just a few days away. But incident commanders are urging patience, cautioning that heavy winds are expected to kick up later this evening around 6:00 pm.
“We know people want to get back home, but we need them to hold on at least onemore day,” said public information officer Amber Anderson with the City of Santa Barbara Fire Department. Winds gusting up to 50 miles an hour from the north and northeast — in other words, down the mountain and to the sea — are expected. Anderson said 34 helicopters — not to mention six fixed-wing aircraft and two super scoopers — are on hand to help prepare a solid line against the fire, which is currently most active by Camino Cielo and Gibraltar Road. The fire has also gotten over the Camino Cielo ridge and is now on the north slope of the mountains.
“The line isn’t quite holding the way we want,” Anderson said. “We’re confident we can get it under control, but this is why we need people to be patient about getting back home.”
Anderson said the number of firefighters and engines have dropped in recent days as the fire is no longer directly threatening the urban interface. This weekend, there were slightly more than 8,000 firefighters and 1,000 engines. There are now 6,501 personnel and 596 engines. These resources were concentrated in heavily populated neighborhoods for structure protection. But with the fire more active up the hillsides, she said, some of those resources were released.
Currently, there are 16,000 residents under evacuation orders and another 12,000 on standby warning. Neighborhoods from Highway 192 to Camino Cielo on the south and north and San Roque Road and Ladera Lane to the west and east are of most immediate concern, but others are under evacuation orders too.
To date, the Thomas Fire has cost $159 million to corral. It is now 60 percent contained and has burned 272,000 acres, making it the second-largest wildfire in California history.