CARPINTERIA (CBSLA/AP) — As Ventura County enters its second week engulfed in flames, fire officials anticipate more growth and danger due to continued strong wind gusts, no rain and decades-old dry vegetation.
A powerful flare-up on the western edge of the largest and most destructive wildfire sent residents fleeing Sunday, as wind-fanned flames ripped down hillsides toward coastal towns northwest of Los Angeles. The blaze, which grew by 50,000 acres Sunday, is burning in an area that hasn’t burned since the ’60s or ’70s, fire officials said. It has now charred more than 232,00 acres
About 30 helicopters have been in the air fighting the massive Thomas Fire in hopes of preventing it from marching through Santa Barbara.
“Speechless, kinda,” Edi Maya, who’s family owns a nursery said. “You never would have thought you’d see Carpinteria in this situation, ever.”
As of late Monday, the Thomas Fire was 20 percent contained. More than 6,300 firefighters are battling this wildfire, which has destroyed 896 structures and damaged 187, according to CalFire. Another 18,000 homes are still threatened, and 95,000 residents have been evacuated.
New evacuations were ordered as the fire sent up an enormous plume near Montecito and Carpinteria, seaside areas in Santa Barbara County. Residents east of Mission Canyon and north of Highway 192 were ordered to leave the area Monday morning as the fire approached.
Flowers that have been chosen for Cal Poly Tech’s float for the Rose Parade are one homeowner’s prized possessions, making him hesitant to leave. His Myriad Flowers business has been in family for decades.
“This is one of the reasons why I don’t want to leave as quickly, ” Erik Van Wingerden said. “I wanna make sure everything is going okay here.” He says the flowers haven’t gotten enough sun light because of all the smoke.
SR-150 is closed from Santa Ana Road to SR 192, and also from Osbourne to Reeves Road, while SR-33 was closed from Fairview Road and La Luna Avenue to Route 166.
“The winds are kind of squirrely right now,” said county fire spokesman Mike Eliason. “Some places the smoke is going straight up in the air, and others it’s blowing sideways. Depends on what canyon we’re in.”
Southern California’s gusty Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.
Gusts of up to 40 mph are expected through Monday, according to the National Weather Service. A Red Flag warning was set to expire Sunday night, but was renewed for Monday with a chance of continuing into Tuesday.
The air thick with acrid smoke, even residents of areas not under evacuation orders took the opportunity to leave, fearing another shutdown of U.S. 101, a key coastal highway that was closed intermittently last week. Officials handed out masks to residents who stayed behind in Montecito, the wealthy hillside enclave that’s home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jeff Bridges.
Smoke shrouded Rob Lowe’s home and the actor wore a mask as he livestreamed his family leaving on Sunday. Lowe thanked fans on Instagram for their thoughts and expressed gratitude for firefighters, saying “we need you!”
Retired tennis star Jimmy Connors tweeted that his property was in danger, while talk show host Ellen DeGeneres said on Twitter that neighbors were helping each other and their animals get to safety. She said she was proud to be a part of the small, exclusive community in Santa Barbara County northwest of Los Angeles.
Ojai experienced hazardous levels of smoke at times and officials warned of unhealthy air for large swaths of the region. The South Coast Air Quality Management District urged residents to stay indoors if possible and avoid vigorous outdoor activities.
Finals at UC Santa Barbara, which were scheduled this week, were rescheduled for Jan. 8, university officials announced this weekend. The Santa Barbara Zoo said there was no immediate danger from the fire, but they did close Sunday. The zoo’s animals are being kept inside, with staff and security on staff wearing masks.
The Thomas Fire has one confirmed death: A 70-year-old woman, who crashed her car on an evacuation route near Santa Paula, a small city where the Thomas Fire began.
The cost of battling the Thomas Fire has so far cost more than $38 million, according to CalFire. The blaze is so far the fifth largest in California history.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)