SoCal’s Raging Fires

Growing to 90,000 acres, or 140.6 square miles, by Wednesday evening, the Thomas Fire, as its known,  caused more mandatory evacuations in neighborhoods from Santa Paula to La Conchita, as well as in Santa Barbara, where officials issued a mandatory evacuation for approximately 300 residents. Late Tuesday, the fast-burning blaze crossed Highway 101 at Solimar Beach, north of Ventura, and nearly doubled the number of residents under evacuation orders to 50,000.

The fire posed the biggest threat among four active wildfires burning in southern California. In Los Angeles, light winds allowed firefighters to continue to keep the upper hand in the Skirball fire burned through some of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

The fire continues to burn actively with extreme rates of spread and long-range spotting when pushed by winds. The fire is established on the north and east side of Hwy 150 and is also burning on the west side of Hwy 30. The fire has pushed northwest of Ventura and has reached the Hwy 101. Firefighters continue to work aggressively to protect life and property while working on control efforts around the fire perimeter.

Smoke from the Creek fire has caused poor air quality, prompting Los Angeles County officials to urge residents in neighboring communities to avoid going outdoors and to limit exercise. The unhealthy air quality has been declared in portions of the San Fernando Valley, Lake View Terrace, Sylmar, Malibu and Santa Monica. Los Angeles County Interim Health Officer Jeffrey Gunzenhauser urged residents living in those communities, especially children and the elderly, to be especially cautious.

The blaze started about 6:25 p.m. Monday in the foothills near Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, a popular hiking destination, and grew wildly to more than 15 square miles in the hours that followed. But the destruction appeared to be much worse as the sun rose Tuesday, revealing fire sweeping through whole neighborhoods in the hills above Ventura.

The fire hopscotched through hillside neighborhoods, burning some homes and sparing others. Some residents hoped the worst might be over in the early hours of the morning when the wind died down. But it picked up with a fury around daybreak, causing more destruction. Fire officials expected flames would rip through at least 50,000 acres in the mountains between Santa Paula and Ventura.

Hundreds of firefighters working through the night tried to prevent the blaze from spreading, block by block, as they were confronted by wind gusts of up to 50 mph. One firefighter was hit by a car while he was protecting homes. He was at a hospital, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Scott Quirarte.

Ventura County fire officials reported Monday night that one person was killed in a traffic accident on a road closed due to the Thomas fire. But at about 6 a.m. Tuesday, authorities said no fatalities were confirmed — although they added that one dog had died.

Amgen, the biotech giant, ordered its employees to go home from its Thousand Oaks headquarters due to air quality. SAGE Publishing was also evacuated. The fire behind the two properties has been extinguished but smoke remains thick due to fires burning to west and northeast of the city.

Early Tuesday, the air quality was worst in the Ojai Valley, but shifting winds made breathing difficult in Ventura, Oxnard and many areas across the county.

Ventura County Air Pollution Control Officer Mike Villegas said categories for air quality include good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy for everyone and hazardous.