SANTA BARBARA (CBSLA/AP) — After announcing increased containment on one of the biggest wildfires in California history, officials warned that communities remain at risk and the threat could increase as unpredictable winds whip up again.
The stubborn Thomas Fire has scorched 238,500 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and was still only 30 percent contained by Wednesday morning. It continues moving in a northwest direction.
Just under 100,000 people remain evacuated. The fire is still threatening about 18,000 homes. The fire is burning through regions that have seen no rain in months and vegetation that has not burned in 50 years. Red Flag warnings for fire danger due to Santa Ana winds and a critical lack of moisture were extended into Friday, with a possible increase in gusts into the end of the week.
Officials are hoping the Thomas Fire moves into the area where the Zaca Fire burned in 2007.
It continues to stretch west near Summerland 10 days after it started.
Jeff Kosowitz and his wife Ursula have been living out of their van after being evacuated twice.
“Initially we were evacuated Wednesday night,” Kosowitz said. “We were allowed to come back on Thursday and then they re-evacuated us Thursday night.”
Their van is packed with their most important things from their Carpinteria home.
“Files, I just grabbed the filing cabinent and pulled them out. Pictures, diplomas.”
The Kosowitzes have been going down to Ventura to get away from the smoke. For Jeff it’s not just for the fresh air.
“Last time we had a fire here I had a heart attack,” Jeff said. “It was 10 years ago, it was primarily from the smoke that got into my lungs and into my heart.”
THOMAS FIRE COVERAGE: Closures And Evacuations
So far, it has destroyed at least 921 Structures and damaged 200 more, according to CAL Fire. At least 700 of those structures are homes. It broke out on the evening of Dec. 4 in the area of Highway 150 and 126.
Close to 8,000 firefighters are battling flames. A second fire camp was set up at Lake Cachuma Wednesday. More than 200 million gallons of water were dumped on the fire Tuesday.
The Thomas Fire is the fifth largest in state history. The cause remains unknown.
The fire is threatening the seaside towns of Carpinteria, Montecito, which are under voluntary and mandatory evacuation orders. It’s also threatening parts of Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez.
The blaze burned in Romero Canyon in Montecito overnight Tuesday, dangerously close to expensive hillside homes. Firefighters scrambled to douse hot spots, and were able to save every home. Firefighters were using private contractors to spray fire retardant directly out of trucks to more accurately protect the homes.
“The firefighters that have been here all night long, they said about one, 1:30 in the morning, this area was hit really hard,” said Capt. Steve Concialdi with the Orange County Fire Authority. “I’m happy to report that no homes were destroyed here at all.”
Firefighters are working to establish a containment line around the areas of Windy Point, Camino Cielo and Foothills.
Firefighters protected foothill homes while the flames churned mostly into unoccupied forest land, Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Eric Burdon and his wife, Marianna, of Ojai were among the people who fled the smoke Tuesday. Burdon, a member of the 1960s British Invasion band The Animals, wrote on Facebook last week about having to flee and returning temporarily to find their home still standing with ashes all around.
“A week like this gives you the perspective that life is what truly matters,” he wrote.
A photo accompanying the post showed his handprint and signature written in ashes.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)