Carpinteria Holds Anxious Vigil for Advance of Thomas Fire into Santa Barbara County
Voluntary evacuation warning issued for parts of city as blaze explodes to 90,000 acres Wednesday night
By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor
The Carpinteria Valley was on edge Wednesday night, keeping an anxious watch to see whether the giant Thomas Fire would menace the community as it has much of Ventura County over the last two days.
Fire officials have acknowledged that the wind-whipped fire — which mushroomed to 90,000 acres as of Wednesday night — could blow into Santa Barbara County if the winds pick up again as expected.
Mandatory evacuation zones were expanded Wednesday to include the coastal areas from Ventura to Rincon Point, on Santa Barbara County’s eastern border, and officials told Noozhawk privately Wednesday evening that at least an evacuation warning was likely for parts of the Carpinteria Valley.
At 8:37 p.m., that warning was issued for the following areas:
» From the 5500 block of Casitas Pass Road (Highway 192) east to the county line to include Lillingston Canyon and Cate Mesa, and all addresses north to the county line.
» All addresses along the east side of Bailard Avenue from Highway 101.
» All areas south of Highway 101 to the coast and east of Dump Road to include all of the Bates Road and Rincon areas.
According to emergency officials, a voluntary evacuation warning “means there is a potential threat to life and property from the fire, but does not generally require leaving immediately. People in the evacuation warning area should make preparations should a mandatory evacuation order be issued.
“People with access and functional needs should consider leaving now. Consideration of evacuating large animals now may be prudent.”
People watch the Thomas Fire burn from Highway 33 in Ventura
County Wednesday night. (Ryan Cullom / Ventura County Fire
Calfire reported 5 percent containment for the two-day-old blaze, which has destroyed more than 150 structures and been blamed for at least one fatality.
An estimated 12,000 structures remained threatened, and more than 50,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
Six evacuation shelters were open as of Wednesday, with locations here.
At a 6 p.m. briefing, Calfire officials said they are expecting “very challenging fire and weather conditions” for the next two days, and noted that the Thomas Fire was competing with other Southern California wildfires for firefighting resources.
The weather forecast for the next couple days was not encouraging.
The eastern flank of the fire likely will see the worst conditions, according to Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
“The winds are going to be very strong, especially from Piru down through Santa Paula,” Smith said. “And very dry.”
The forecast for that area calls for winds of 25-40 mph Wednesday night and Thursday, with gusts to 60 mph, Smith said.
With flames from the Thomas Fire behind them, two sheriff’s
deputies walk across the Padre Juan overpass to Highway 101
west of Ventura Wednesday afternoon. (Diego Topete / Noozhawk photo)
Milder conditions are expected to the west of the fire, with 5-10 mph winds in Carpinteria, but more more blustery conditions just to the east, Smith said.
On top of that, humidity levels are expected to be very low — in the single digits in some areas.
Conditions are expected to improve Friday into Saturday, “but winds could come up again on Sunday,” Smith warned.
Santa Barbara County was added to the fire’s unified incident command Wednesday afternoon because of the northwest advance of the fire, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni, who has been assigned to the fire this week, said there were light winds Wednesday morning, but that was expected to change.
Forecasts have Santa Ana winds picking up Wednesday afternoon into Thursday or even Friday, which could cause the fire to grow rapidly as it did the first night, burning about 45,000 acres in five hours.
Flames from the Thomas Fire burn on Rincon Mountain Wednesday.
(Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)
Zaniboni said the fire’s unified command is focusing on the western edge of the fire closest to Santa Barbara, and planned to get more aircraft in that area Wednesday.
“If we get the winds that we’ve had, which are predicted later today, tonight and tomorrow, it could definitely move that way,” Zaniboni said.
Wednesday afternoon, smoke-shrouded Highway 150 was closed between Carpinteria and Lake Casitas, according to Caltrans.
The unified command as of Wednesday included CalFire, Los Padres National Forest, the Ventura County Fire Department and the city of Ventura, and Santa Barbara County was later added.
Nearly 1,800 firefighting personnel were assigned to the blaze.
Many schools in Ventura County closed Wednesday, as did Carpinteria Unified School District. CUSD Superintendent Diana Rigby said schools will be closed again Thursday due to the fire.
The Thomas Fire burns near Highway 101 in the Faria Beach area
Wednesday night. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
The National Weather Serviceissued a wind advisory and red flag warning for the Ventura area through 8 p.m. Friday, due to the elevated fire risk from predicted Santa Ana winds and low relative humidity. That red flag warning was later extended to the Santa Ynez Mountains along the Santa Barbara County South Coast.
There are several evacuation centers open in Ventura County for people displaced by the fire and those who have lost their homes, and the Pacific Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross opened an evacuation center at UCSB Tuesday night.
Santa Barbara County facilities are accepting evacuated pets and large animals from the Thomas Fire, in addition to the Ventura County Fairgrounds at 10 W. Harbor Blvd.
The animal evacuation hotline is 866.387.8911.
An air quality warning continued for Santa Barbara County Wednesday, and the Air Pollution Control District said that air monitoring stations in Goleta and Santa Barbara on Tuesday “recorded levels that were unhealthy for all to breathe yesterday. Smoke and ash from the Thomas Fire burning in Ventura County may continue to affect local air quality for days.”
The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management issued
a map for the Carpinteria-area voluntary evacuation warning zone
Wednesday night. (Santa Barbara County photo)
Southern California Edison was working to return power to fire-impacted areas and as of 4 a.m. Wednesday, reported a 6,565-customer outage due to the Thomas Fire, a significant decrease since the day before.
On Monday night into early Tuesday, more than 200,000 customers lost power in southern Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.
As of Wednesday, there were also fire-related outages reported for the Rye Fire in Santa Clarita and the Creek Fire in Sylmar.
Check back with Noozhawk for updates to this story.
Noozhawk Executive Editor Tom Bolton and Contributing Writer Ray Ford contributed to this report.