Thomas Fire stops growing, 88 percent contained
The Thomas Fire became California's largest officially recorded fire on Dec. 22, 2017, when surpassed the 273,000-plus acre Cedar Fire.
California’s largest wildfire on official record has not been gaining ground, holding at 281,620 acres since Monday morning, officials said.
Fire crews continue to work toward full containment of the Thomas Fire, which entered its 23rd day and reached 88 percent containment.
“No forward progress of the fire is expected at this point,” officials with the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release Tuesday morning.
This year has been an exceptional one for wildfires in the state. The Thomas Fire accounts for more than half of the 505,930 acres burned in Cal Fire incidents between Jan. 1 and Dec. 24, according to the agency.
The Thomas Fire alone eclipses 244,315 acres burned during the same period in 2016 and the five-year average of 202,751, according to Cal Fire.: The Thomas Fire at its height
Residents of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties may see smoke due to hotspots on the interior of the burn area, although officials noted that air quality was good for those without hypersensitivity to smoke.
Air quality in the Upper Ojai area continues to be degraded by ash and smoke from approximately 30 oil seepage fires that continue to burn, authorities said.
“A foam product has been ordered that may help extinguish the oil seep fires and will be applied immediately upon delivery,” officials said.
In other areas, crews will continue to build up and reinforce containment.
“Firefighters are building upon previous gains by strengthening established containment lines adjacent to communities and other infrastructure,” authorities said.
Fewer than 900 fire personnel were attached to the incident as of Tuesday morning, down from 1,586 only 24 hours earlier and several thousand more at the height of the fire, which started Dec. 4 near Santa Paula and destroyed more than 1,000 structures, including more than 500 homes in Ventura.
“We are continuing on ramp-down,” said Rachele Oman, a Thomas Fire spokeswoman, adding that “a lot less” resources have been required as the incident continues.
Oman, a captain for U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Utah, said the reduction in the size of the firefighting force would continue as containment lines are established and strengthened in the “front country” or zones close to populated areas like Ventura and Santa Paula.
Ground resources are not due to be utilized in Los Padres National Forest’s Bear Heaven area west of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, where the fire is still active, Oman said.
The terrain near Bear Heaven is steep, hard to access and full of burnable material, with large, downed trees, leading to continued fire activity, the spokeswoman said.
Fire officials were confident that the hotspot would not endanger nearby containment lines because aircraft were making drops on the area, Oman said.
Help for victims
The American Red Cross opened two client service centers this week for victims of the Thomas Fire. The centers will operate from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at Ventura County Credit Union, 6026 Telephone Road in Ventura, and at the Palazzio Event Center, 814 E Main St. in Santa Paula. They will also be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on New Year's Eve.
Santa Barbara Independent
California’s Largest Fire Cooling Down
Thomas Fire Surpassed Cedar Fire in Size and Grew Some More
Jean Yamamura, Nick Welsh
When Santa Ana winds collided with a fire that sparked in Santa Paula — 44 miles from Santa Barbara — on December 4, they gave birth to the largest fire in California history, at least since 1932 when such stats were officially logged in. As of Saturday morning, the Thomas Fire had grown to 273,400 acres, surpassing San Diego’s Cedar Fire of 2003 which had burned across 273,246 acres. (Other fires have burned more homes or caused greater loss of life.) Thomas’s size leapt another 8,000 acres on Christmas Day when incident commanders connected a perimeter line on the fire map that brought total acreage to the current 281,620 with containment at 89 percent.
Of the tens of miles of containment line still to be achieved, all are on the Ventura County side of the fire and all located near the fire’s northern boundaries, near Cherry Creek, Lockwood, and Rose Valley just off Highway 33. Crews that once numbered more than 8,000 are now down to 688. Engines, once up to 1,000, are now down to 14. Of the 688 firefighters, about half are on the fire at any given time.
The crews that had been cutting lines around the fire all week, scraping the earth and mopping up hot spots, are now monitoring a fire that has begun to cool, said Terry Krasko, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson normally assigned to Ozark-St. Francis National Forest in Arkansas. “They’re on watch to make sure everything is staying how we want it to stay.”
To date 775 single-family residences have been destroyed and another 208 damaged. The vast majority of these were located in Ventura. In Santa Barbara County, 27 homes were destroyed as were 18 outbuildings. Damage has been reported to 23 residential properties and nine outbuildings in Santa Barbara County. Those numbers are not expected to increase unless new damaged or destroyed structures are discovered. Of the acreage burned, most was in Ventura County and more than 181,000 acres in Los Padres Forest.
Firefighters expect the Thomas to be contained well before the January 7 date listed as the official estimate. The total cost remains uncertain but already exceeds $202.5 million. The aftershocks of the Thomas Fire — and hidden costs — will be felt for months and years afterward.
In Santa Barbara County the Department of behavioral Wellness has dispatched teams of mental-health workers — and opened a fire distress hotline — to help victims and residents cope with the stress of loss, evacuation, and trauma. More immediate is the total loss of the 87-bed Vista del Mar psychiatric hospital in Ventura, one of the few facilities around licensed to accept both juveniles and adults with grave psychiatric issues.
For years, Vista del Mar has functioned as a key safety valve for the County of Santa Barbara, accepting Santa Barbara psychiatric patients who pose a threat either to themselves or others when the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF) is at capacity. The county PHF has only 16 beds, not nearly enough for a county of Santa Barbara’s size. As a result, Vista del Mar has had on average seven or eight county residents at any given time being held on involuntary psychiatric holds at county expense.
Since Vista del Mar burned down, Santa Barbara County has received emergency approval to expand the number of patients it can hold in its own PHF from 16 to 26. Likewise, the PHF in San Luis Obispo County has been given approval to hold five patients more than the 20 for which they are licensed.