The “fast-moving” Thomas Fire continues to rage “out of control,” Ventura County officials report, pushed east by strong winds billowing up to 25 miles per hour.
As of 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, estimates of size, containment, and number of structures threatened and destroyed were the same as they were earlier in the day ― 45,500 acres burned, zero percent containment, 3,000 structures threatened, and 150 buildings destroyed. Those figure are expected to change in the coming hours, however, as emergency responders update their assessments. More than 7,700 homes have been evacuated
Overnight, the fire “experienced exponential growth,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday morning. Winds have been “extremely high, with low humidity, and fuel conditions are about as bad as they can be.”
Vista del Mar Hospital, an 82-bed mental-health facility in northwestern Ventura that serves a large number of Santa Barbara patients, is reported to have burned down. It was fully evacuated two hours before the flames reached it.
Approximately 1,100 firefighters are on scene with additional resources en route. Fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters began attacking the fire at daybreak. It sparked just after 6 p.m. Monday, north of Santa Paula near Thomas Aquinas College. A complete list of Ventura area road and school closures, as well as information on evacuation orders, emergency shelter locations, and ways to help fire victims can be found on the Ventura County Ready website.
A thick shroud of smoke now blankets much of Santa Barbara County’s South Coast, prompting the Public Health Department to issue an Air Quality Warning. Health officials said the smoky conditions could persist over the next several days and advised residents to “be cautious and use common sense to protect your and your family’s health.” That means everyone ― but especially people with heart or lung disease (including asthma), older adults, and children ― should limit time spent outdoors and avoid outdoor exercise. Health officials also advised keeping windows closed and not using home fireplaces.
This map outlines the areas under evacuation as of 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 19. Orange areas are under a mandatory evacuation order, while voluntary evacuation areas are in yellow. Click on the brackets in the top-right corner of the map to enlarge it.
Intermittent power outages continue to afflict downtown Santa Barbara and nearby areas as the Thomas Fire threatens and burns transmission lines that tether the South Coast to the rest of Southern California Edison’s energy grid. A local “transmission emergency” was declared by the California Independent System Operator due to the loss of critical infrastructure serving the Ventura and Santa Barbara areas, Edison said in a prepared statement. “Some customers in fire-affected areas should be prepared to be without power for days or may experience intermittent outages for the next few days.”
Sally Jeun with Edison’s Corporate Communications office was unable to confirm, however, whether the two 220-kilovolt transmissions lines that connect Santa Barbara to the utility’s “Santa Clara” substation ― situated northwest of the City of Ventura, directly in a fire-affected area ― have been affected. She could not say if power had been rerouted or provide a clear reason for the continuing electrical instability in the Santa Barbara region.
To reduce strain the system, the Edison asked customers to conserve energy this week. “Small actions from customers can make a significant difference,” the statement reads.
Shortly before noon, Santa Barbara City College closed its campus and canceled all classes. “Students that are currently on campus should evacuate in an orderly and timely fashion,” a school bulletin stated.
Also early Tuesday, California’s Office of Emergency Services secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fight the fire.
Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in the following areas:
- East of Dickenson Road, north of Monte Vista Drive along Highway 150 and south of Thomas Aquinas College to the area of Bridge Road.
- West of Dickenson Road to Atmore Road, north of Foothill Road and west to Wheeler Canyon Road
- North of Highway 150 from Koenigstein Road west to the Dennison Grade, north to Reeves Road, east to McAndrew Road and north to Grand Avenue.
- North of Foothill Road west to Wheeler Canyon Road, north to Canada Larga Road and east to Barlow Canyon Road
- In Ventura south of Highway 33, east of Main Street, north of Foothill Road and Hall Canyon Road and west of Canada Larga Road
Evacuation shelter locations:
- Ventura County Fairgrounds at Miners Building (includes an animal shelter for all types of animals): 10 West Harbor Boulevard, Ventura
- Nordhoff High School: 1401 Maricopa Highway, Ojai
- Ventura Unified School District: All schools will be closed Tuesday.
- Hueneme Elementary School District: All schools will be closed Tuesday.
- Santa Paula School Districts: All schools will be closed Tuesday.
Soft closures (Residents will need to provide identification to access their homes.):
- Wheeler Canyon Road at Foothill Road
- Highway 150 at Reeves Road
- Highway 150 at Santa Barbara Street
Hard closures (Only public safety personnel will have access.):
- Highway 150 at Sisar Road
- Highway 150 at Stonegate Road
- Wells Road at Foothill Road
- Peck Road at Foothill Road