VENTURA (CBSLA) — As winds picked up Wednesday night the Thomas Fire became a problem again as the massive blaze began to threaten homes in Santa Paula and flames were marching west, CBSLA’s Crystal Cruz reported at 10:15 p.m.
“We’ve been hearing sparks and loud booms and we think it’s power lines or transformers that have caught fire and blasted off,” said Cruz. “The fire was on top of the hillside and now it’s much closer, huge flames ripping down the mountain, sending smoke and flames west. It almost looks like a volcano erupted with lava flowing down the hill.
A neighbor told Cruz there’s normally snow on the mountain this time of year, adding an even larger element of surprise to see flames instead.
“It’s unbelievable. It hurts because I’ve never seen anything like this. My dad’s been a firefighter for 35 years, and you just don’t expect things like this. It’s like I was expecting this year to see snow on that mountain and now it’s on fire,” said Jake Sandell.
Evacuations are now mandatory for parts of Ojai and Ojai Valley. There is a 20-mile path of destruction from Santa Paula to the coast.
Tom Wait Reports From Ojai
“We did see a massive exodus coming into town on Highway 150, I mean the line to get out of here is for miles and miles. People are clearly heeding the calls for evacuation, bringing their animals out,” said KCAL’s Tom Wait, reporting from Grand Avenue just outside of downtown Ojai.
Making matters worse was remnants of the fire filling the air, making conditions even more dangerous for residents rushing to flee.
“There’s a mist of ash here, it’s everywhere. You’re breathing it in, the air quality is just horrific,” said Wait.
The wildfire raging through Ventura County Wednesday jumped Highway 101 and reached the beaches of Ventura and was approaching the Santa Barbara County line.
Earlier crews announced they had made progress as all hot spots had been extinguished and mopped up which helped stop the spread of the fire in the Ventura area. The current challenge is to the north east of Ojai, authorities said in press conference at 6 p.m.
PHOTOS: Wildfires Torch Southland
Red Flag conditions are continuing until 8 p.m. Saturday which poses a potential for a critical fire conditions. Winds of 30 to 50 miles per hour and dry conditions in the next day could cause the fire to spread, a meteorologist said.
The Thomas Fire is 5 percent contained, 90,000 acres have burned after firefighters battled desperately to save homes without the help of firefighting aircraft that were downed due to gusty winds that made conditions too dangerous to fly.
The fire is still burning aggressively, especially when pushed by winds, according to an update from Cal Fire. The difference between Tuesday and Wednesday’s firefight will likely be the 12 water-dropping helicopters that are being deployed.
The number of structures destroyed is at 150, but authorities suspect hundreds more homes have already been lost, though firefighters have been unable to assess them. Among the structures destroyed are an entire apartment building, displacing 53 families in one fell swoop, and a mental health facility that had ocean views.
Authorities say 12,000 structures are still threatened by the fire, and nearly 200,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders.
The wildfire jumped the major artery U.S. Highway 101 to a rocky beach northwest of Ventura, bringing new evacuations, though officials said the sparse population and lack of vegetation in the area meant it was not overly dangerous, and the highway was not closed.
Roads that have been closed include: Wells, Olive, Cummins, and Brigs at Foothill; Highway 150 at Santa Paula; Highway 33 north and south from Canada to Casita Springs and Stanley to Casita Springs; and Highway 33 at Nye Road.
Neighborhoods under mandatory evacuation include homes on Ventura Avenue to Canada Larga to Foster Road; Creek Road to Ventura Street, Creek Road North to Camp Comfort; Ventura Street North to Montgomery; Creek Road south of Camp Comfort, Persimen Hill; Norweign Track; Casitas Springs; McAndrew, Thatcher, Canada, and Reeves roads; and Foster Park.
In Santa Paula, everything east of Say Road to the north city limits are also under mandatory evacuation orders, along with SR 150 W. of Peck north of Virginia Terrace; Foothill, Telegraph and Ashwood Hill; County Inn Estates mobile home park at Wells and Telegraph; Encino, Alto and Feliz roads.
Evacuation centers have been set up at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, Nordhoff High School in Ojai, the Oxnard College Gymnasium, the Santa Paula Community Center, and the Veteran’s Memorial Building in Fillmore. Animals are being evacuated tot he Ventura County Fairgrounds.