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Thomas Fire Grows to 55K Acres in Third Day of Fierce Santa Ana Winds

"The prospects for containment are not good," said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen

What to Know

  • As of Wednesday, 55,000 acres have been scorched and over 50,000 residents have been evacuated.
  • 150 structures have been destroyed and 2,500 others are threatened.
  • There are 1,100 firefighters battling the blaze.

This story is no longer being updated. For the latest information on the Thomas Fire, click here.

Fueled by fierce fast winds and tinder dry conditions, the Thomas Fire burned hillsides in Ventura County for a third day Wednesday, scorching 55,000 acres, prompting tens of thousands of evacuations, destroying 150 structures, jumping through the 101 Freeway and prompting a state of emergency.

"The prospects for containment are not good," said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen.

The fire, burning just south of Thomas Aquinas College, killed a family pet and injured a firefighter. The college issued a fire alert Monday around 8 p.m. and evacuated all students to nearby homes as a precaution.

Dr. Bob Pazen watched his hillside house burn from a safe distance Tuesday off Foothill Road. He wasn't sad. He put the destruction into perspective.

"It's insured. My wife is safe. Our dog is safe. It's a structure. You can always replace it."

When his grandson, Orion Garman, heard about his grandparents' house burning, he ran over to see if they were OK.

"This is just devastating," he said. "So many memories -- Christmases, Thanksgiving. I'm just dumbfounded."

He said his grandmother is devastated the house is gone.

But they're going to be OK.

"They can come to my house. We have enough space for them. They're well taken care of."

He couldn't fathom the destruction. He had just visited the house on Thanksgiving two weeks ago.

"I never thought this would ever happen," he said.

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Mike Connor sifted through the rubble of two burned-down houses in another part of Ventura on Tuesday, his and his in-laws up the hill.

He spent the night shuttling up and down the hill to try to save the homes.

"It was just ember control," he said. "Embers were flying through and it seemed like we were going to be OK.

But the embers leaped onto the house and into attic, a telltale sign, he said that the battle's been lost.

Connor, a builder, vowed to rebuild.

"Everyone is healthy. Everyone is out. All the animals were out. I chased the chickens out this morning. And there's no roasted chickens."

More than 50,000 homes were evacuated and 20,000 people remained without power Tuesday. That figure was down from 200,000 customers who were in the dark Monday night because of transmission line problems associated with the fire.

The fire spread extremely quickly. The Ventura County Fire Department tweeted that the fire was moving fast and was burning in steep terrain with 25 to 30 mph winds. 

At least 150 structures were damaged, according to the fire department. One of those was the Vista del Mar Hospital, an 83-bed mental health facility at 801 Seneca St. All patients were evacuated safely, but the majority of buildings were left to be nothing but smoking husks. The apartments on the skirts of the facility had not yet been threatened by 6 a.m. 

"Oh my god, just devastation for these people," said Leticia Broida, an employee. "The whole hospital is gone."

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for west Ventura shortly before 1 a.m., Tuesday. Multiple homes and buildings were reportedly burned in the area and palm trees were on flames behind Ventura City Hall.

Officials issued another mandatory evacuation just before 11:30 p.m., Tuesday for beach communities along the 101 Freeway from Highway 33 to Bates Road in Ventura County.

Due to the intensity of the blaze, fire crews were reportedly having difficulties accessing the burned areas.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Office advised residents to go to vcemergency.com for the most up-to-date information. 

While red flag warnings are now scheduled to expire Friday, "long range computer models are showing the possibility that the Santa Ana winds could persist into Friday or Saturday, which may require the extension of the red flag warning," according to an NWS statement.

Patrick Healy, Gordon Tokumatsu and City News Service contributed to this report.

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