Calif. Firefighters Brace for 2nd Week 12/11 06:14
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- As Southern California enters its second week engulfed
in flames, fire officials anticipate more growth and danger due to continued
strong wind gusts, no rain and decades-old dry vegetation.
A powerful flare-up on the western edge of the largest and most destructive
wildfire sent residents fleeing Sunday, as wind-fanned flames ripped down
hillsides toward coastal towns northwest of Los Angeles. New evacuations were
ordered as the fire sent up an enormous plume near Montecito and Carpinteria,
seaside areas in Santa Barbara County.
"The winds are kind of squirrely right now," said county fire spokesman Mike
Eliason. "Some places the smoke is going straight up in the air, and others
it's blowing sideways. Depends on what canyon we're in."
Southern California's gusty 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.
Gusts of up to 40 mph (64 kph) are expected through Monday, according to the
National Weather Service.
Containment increased Sunday 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 270-square-mile (699-sq. kilometer) fire that
started Dec. 4 in neighboring Ventura County.
As of late Sunday, the Thomas Fire had destroyed 790 structures and damaged
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. The governor and experts said
climate change is making wildfires a year-round threat.
High fire risk is expected to last into January.
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
"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.
In San Diego, which is 130 miles (209 kilometers) to the south, the Lilac
Fire was 75 percent contained. The flames erupted suddenly Thursday in the
Fallbrook area, known for its avocado groves and horse stables in the rolling
The fire swept through the San Luis Rey Downs training center, where it
killed more than 40 elite thoroughbred race horses, and destroyed more than 100
homes --- most of them in a retirement community. Three people were burned
trying to escape the fire that continued to smolder Sunday.
Despite the size and number of wildfires burning in the region, there has
only been one confirmed death: 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