Garth White, with a crew from Bend Oregon City firefighters, works a hose alongside members of Arroyo Grande Hotshots, Santa Lucia Crew Seven and Vandenberg Hotshots working to cut a fire break up steep terrain in Toro Canyon. (Dec. 12, 2017)
Paul Wellman

The north winds whipped through the Thomas Fire zone overnight Wednesday, but there was “no fire activity at all,” said Captain Dave Zaniboni, the public information officer for Santa Barbara County Fire. For the past three days, fire crews have been putting out any hotspots of smoke or embers along Gibraltar Road and Camino Cielo. Wednesday night would be the “test” for the fire line: “It held, and it’s good news,” Zaniboni said.

The good news led to an announcement on Thursday morning by the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that all evacuation orders and warnings in the County of Santa Barbara had been lifted. Previously, evacuation areas had extended from Highway 154 through parts of Montecito, which had been immediately threatened by the western edges of the Thomas Fire.

This morning’s incident report showed the fire had grown only 200 acres to 272,200 total, though the northeasterly Santa Ana winds are expected to return and dry conditions continue. The fire has burned into the Zaca, Jesusita, and Tea fire footprints, which “Took some steam out of it,” Zaniboni said. County Battalion Chief Chris Childers explained at Wednesday’s community meeting that the newer growth was less hospitable to fire, especially when retardant was laid on top.

Water dropping helicopters fight the Thomas Fire in Toro Canyon Tuesday. (Dec. 12, 2017)
Paul Wellman

Fire crews are continuing to douse the Santa Barbara side of the enormous fire and build direct lines to confine Thomas to the 2007 Zaca Fire burn. Out toward Ojai, the efforts are concentrated on bringing the Highway 33/Rose Valley side of the fire into the old Day Fire footprint. North of there, the fire is backing slowly into the Sespe Wilderness. More than 5,600 fire personnel remain on the fire; about a thousand have been released back to their home stations.

This morning, postal workers were already out delivering mail that had been held for addresses in the mandatory evacuation areas. Packages will be delivered once the post office has determined people are back in their homes.

In a release on Thursday morning, EOC issued safety guidelines for evacuees returning to their homes:

Once a wildfire has burned through an area, many dangers may remain. Please exercise safety precautions when returning to your home.

  • When entering your property check for trees, brush, rocks and debris. Trees may be weakened or destroyed as a result of the fire. Be on the lookout for utility poles which may be weakened.
  • As you walk around your property, check for fire or fire damage. Hot embers may be seen in rain gutters, on the roof and under overhangs, under decks and in crawl spaces. You may see marking tapes or placards on your mailboxes or home. These were used by first responders and can now be discarded.
  • If your services are off, check for burned service equipment and facilities. If there is visible damage, DO NOT attempt to repair or turn on these services. Call your local utility companies.
  • Once you have secured the outside of your home, check inside for fire or fire damage. Check for embers in the attic which may have entered through vents. If electricity is off, turn off all appliances before turning it on. Check if the phone is working. Check if security systems and alarms are working.

If you find any of these conditions:

  1. Fire or other emergencies – stay away and call 911
  2. Damaged utilities – report them to your local utility


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