Southern California

Thomas Fire Explodes Overnight, Becomes Fifth Largest Wildfire in State History

High fire risk is expected to last into January

What to Know

  • 231,700 acres burned
  • 20 percent containment
  • Cost associated with suppressing the fire estimated at $48 million

This article was last updated at 6:25 p.m. PT Monday, Dec. 11.

Firefighters kept a wall of flames from descending mountains into coastal neighborhoods after a huge and destructive Southern California wildfire exploded in size, becoming the fifth largest in state history.

Click here to see an interactive map of the evacuation zones. 

Thousands remained under evacuation orders Monday as the fire churned west through foothill areas of Carpinteria and Montecito, seaside Santa Barbara County towns about 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Much of the fire's rapid new growth occurred on the eastern and northern fronts into unoccupied areas of Los Padres National Forest, where the state's fourth largest fire burned a decade ago.

[NATL-LA GALLERY UPDATED 12/20] 2017 California Wildfires in Photos

The blaze had already destroyed 868 buildings and damaged another 187 in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, as well as unincorporated Ventura County, officials said. It's just 20 percent contained after charring 231,700 acres of dry brush and timber.


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Officials warned that the number of buildings destroyed or damaged could rise, as could the current cost associated wit the fire, which as of Monday night stood at a little over $48 million.

Forecasters predicted that dry winds that fanned several fires across the region for a week would begin to lose their power Monday. But the possibility of "unpredictable" gusts would keep firefighters on edge for days, Santa Barbara County Fire spokesman Mike Eliason said.

Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region's most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.

The Thomas Fire continued into Carpinteria, forcing mandatory evacuations. Jane Yamamoto reports for the NBC4 News at 11 on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017.

Containment increased on other major blazes in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties. Resources from those fires were diverted to the Santa Barbara foothills to combat the stubborn and enormous fire that started Dec. 4.

Fires are not typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Though the state emerged this spring from a yearslong drought, hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region over the past six months.

"This is the new normal," Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown warned Saturday after surveying damage from the deadly Ventura fire. Brown and experts said climate change is making wildfires a year-round threat.

High fire risk is expected to last into January.

Even during this difficult time, evacuees in Ventura are thinking of their neighbors. Christine Kim reports for the NBC4 News at 11 on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017.

The air thick with acrid smoke, even residents of areas not under evacuation orders took the opportunity to leave, fearing another shutdown of U.S. 101, a key coastal highway that was closed intermittently last week. Officials handed out masks to residents who stayed behind in Montecito, the wealthy hillside enclave that's home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Rob Lowe.

"Our house is under threat of being burned," Ellen DeGeneres tweeted at midday Sunday. "We just had to evacuate our pets. I'm praying for everyone in our community and thankful to all the incredible firefighters."

Ojai experienced hazardous levels of smoke at times, and officials warned of unhealthy air for large swaths of the region. The South Coast Air Quality Management District urged residents to stay indoors if possible and avoid vigorous outdoor activities.

[LA - STRINGER UPDATED 12/25] Photos: Thomas Fire Burns in Ventura, Santa Barbara Counties

Despite the size and number of wildfires burning in the region, there has only been one confirmed death: The death of a 70-year-old woman, who crashed her car on an evacuation route, is attributed to the fire in Santa Paula, a small city where the Thomas Fire began.

Most of last week's fires were in places that burned in the past, including one in the ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood of Bel-Air that burned six homes and another in the city's rugged foothills above the community of Sylmar and in Santa Paula.

Mandatory evacuations are in effect for the following areas:
City of Ventura
North of Foothill Road from Day Road west to Kimball Road

Entire Community of Casitas Springs

Evacuate to Ventura County Fairgrounds - 10 West Harbor Blvd., Ventura.

Lake Casitas
North of Hwy 150 heading to Hwy 33 and south of Los Padres National Forest

City of Ojai and East Ojai Valley
SR 150 East of Dennison Park to Koenigstein Road, south of Reeves Road

Unincorporated areas west of Rice Road
Los Encinos Road to Burnham Road, South of SR 150

Upper Ojai Valley
Hwy 150 east of Reeves Road, and unincorporated areas west of Rice Road
Upper Ojai Valley (West)
Hwy 33 north of Fairview Drive- Matilija Canyon

Unincorporated Ventura County Area
Residents and day visitors of Rose Valley

Ventura County North Coast Area
Boundary of Hwy 33 on the north to Casitas Vista Road, northwest to Hwy 150, Hwy 150 (Casitas Pass Road) west to US 101 and south on US 101 (including Pacific Coast Highway) to Emma Wood State Beach.

Unincorporated area of Fillmore
The area of Hall Road to the west, Sespe Creek to the east, Fillmore City limits to the south, and Los Padres National Forest boundary to the north

Voluntary Evacuations
Casitas Pass Road east to Highway 33, Spring Street to Loma Drive. (Includes Rice Road east to Loma Drive. Baldwin Road north to Besant Road)

Unincorporated area of Fillmore
Sespe Creek to the west, Burson Ranch to the east, Fillmore City limits to the south, and Los Padres National Forest boundary to the north.

Animal Evacuations
Please call 866-EVRT911 (866-387-8911) for requests for assistance in animal evacuations.
Large animal evacuations at the Ventura County Fairgrounds at 10 W Harbor Blvd, Ventura. 

Evacuation Shelters
City of Ventura
Ventura County Fairgrounds (Red Cross - Includes an Animal Shelter for all types of animals) – 10 W Harbor Blvd., Ventura.

City of Oxnard
Oxnard College Gymnasium - 4000 S. Rose Ave., Oxnard.

Recreational Center (Includes an Animal Shelter for small animals - preferably in crates) 516 Ocean Road, Santa Barbara.

City of Ojai
The Red Cross has transitioned residents of the Nordhoff High School shelter in Ojai (1401 Maricopa Hwy, Ojai) to alternative shelters on Saturday, 12/9.

City of Santa Paula
The Red Cross Shelter is no longer set up in Santa Paula. A Community Distribution Center will open at the Santa Paula Community Center Tuesday Dec. 12 through Saturday Dec. 16 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. to serve Santa Paula Residents impacted by the Thomas Fire. The City of Santa Paula partnered with the Salvation Army to provide food, water and other items to local residents in need of assistance.

Santa Paula Community Center, 530 W Main St. Santa Paula. 

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