OJAI (CBSLA/AP) — Authorities say a woman’s body has been found in an unincorporated area outside Santa Paula, near the scene of an apparent solo crash within the Thomas Fire burn area.
The discovery was made Wednesday night, Ventura County sheriff’s Deputy Tim Lohman said. Investigators were still trying to determine if the death was connected to the wildfires or if the person was trying to evacuate from the area.
The woman’s name hasn’t been released and a cause of death is still being determined.
The raging Thomas Fire, which is now edging closer to Ojai and Santa Barbara on two fronts and forced the closure of Highway 101 for hours Thursday morning as flames burned on both sides of the freeway, started Monday night in Santa Paula and quickly tore through Ventura toward the Pacific Ocean.
The wildfire has burned 96,000 acres with 5 percent containment on the third day of battling the blaze, which is now burning its way into the Los Padres National Forest.
Thomas Fire: Latest Closures And Evacuations
To the east, the fire raged toward Ojai, where residents were frantically calling county animal services for help evacuating their horses as the glow of flames approached. Overnight, elderly patients were evacuated in wheelchairs from Ojai Valley Community Hospital in downtown Ojai.
Elderly Patients Evacuated From Ojai Hospital Overnight
A man was doing his best to spray down his house before he could evacuate.
“There’s fire all around the valley, so you gotta go,” he said.
Flames also moved toward the Santa Barbara County line and Lake Casitas, as well as toward the Los Padres National Forest and the Sespe Wilderness.
In La Conchita, Highway 101 was closed for about 16 miles at State Route 126 for hours Wednesday morning. State Route 150 was also closed between Carpinteria and Ojai, cutting off access between Ventura and Santa Barbara.
Explosive Flames Overwhelm 101 Freeway, Beach Homes
The freeway in Carpinteria was later reopened with California Highway Patrol escorts, but northbound lanes remain closed at Highway 126. Authorities said drivers who can avoid Highway 101 should do so because the freeway will be subject to last-minute closures.
Amtrak said there would be no service Thursday from Santa Barbara to Ventura.
In Carpinteria, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s officials say 300 people had to evacuate from the Rincon Point Area of Carpinteria, an area that was previously under voluntary evacuation. An evacuation shelter was opened at UC Santa Barbara’s Multi Activity Center, 516 Ocean Road. Santa Barbara Animal County Services are handling the evacuation of large animals and pets.
Santa Barbara City College said it would close Thursday, including its Wake and Schott Campuses, Cometology Building and Child Care Center.
Most schools in Ventura County have been closed since Wednesday, and will remain closed through Friday.
Gusty winds laid down Wednesday, giving firefighters some time to gain ground on the fire. Air tankers that had been grounded much of the week because of high winds flew on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.
But those vicious Santa Ana winds flared up again with a vengeance Wednesday night. Winds of 80 mph were forecast for Thursday.
Southern California has felt yellow wind, orange wind, and red wind. But never purple wind. Until now.
The color-coded system showing the expected strength of the winds driving the region’s fierce wildfires has reached uncharted territory, pushing past red, which means “high” into the color that means “extreme.”
“The forecast for [Thursday] is purple,” said Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’ve never used purple before.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)