Wind-Driven Thomas Fire Burns More Than 85 Square Miles in Ventura County, Jumps 101 Fwy; 12,000 Structures Threatened

A destructive, wind-driven brush fire continued to rage in Ventura County Tuesday night, threatening more than 12,000 structures as it grew to 55,000 acres after jumping the heavily-traveled 101 Freeway, authorities said.

Driven by winds, the Thomas Fire sends embers all over residential neighborhoods north of Ventura. (Credit: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Driven by winds, the Thomas Fire sends embers all over residential neighborhoods north of Ventura. (Credit: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The fire, dubbed the Thomas Fire, increased in size to 55,00 acres — over 85 square miles — as of 6:30 p.m., according to the latest update from incident command. The massive inferno remained at 0 percent containment.

Meanwhile, a curfew is scheduled to go into effect in the city of Ventura  -- where dozens of homes burned earlier in the day -- starting at 10 p.m. and going daily to 5 a.m., city officials said in a Facebook post Tuesday evening.

"The curfew is in effect until no longer necessary," the post said. "During this curfew time no person shall be upon the public street, avenue, alley, park, or other public place or unimproved public realty within the entire jurisdictional limits of the City."

The fire -- which already destroyed at least 150 structures -- is threatening an additional 12,000, according to authorities.

Ventura County officials said they were still looking through the burned areas to assess the damage. Fire officials said the blaze was continuing to be swept in a westerly direction toward the ocean.

The California Highway Patrol's incident log stated that the blaze jumped the 101 Freeway near Solimar Beach area shortly after 8 p.m. and was burning on both sides of the roadway.

More than 17, firefighters from several agencies are actively fighting the fire

“We had a rough night last night,” Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday morning, adding that the fire "quickly spread and rapidly progressed toward the City of Ventura.”

About 150 structures have been destroyed, Lorenzen said. Footage of a number of neighborhoods in Ventura shows a number of homes reduced to crumbles of rubble and debris.

Jim Hodges lives on a street where a number of homes were destroyed. His is still standing, and on Tuesday night, he was still working to defend it from possible harm.

“I feel for everyone, you know, it’s terrible to lose your home," he said. "I’m hoping I can make it. If I can make it tonight, I think I’ll be OK.”

One Ventura homeowner named Cindy told KTLA her family evacuated the night of the fire within just 30 minutes, first hearing about evacuations at about 10:30 p.m. and leaving by 11 to stay overnight at a friend's business down the road.

Her home in the foothills is surrounded by houses that have been torched to the ground. Hers is still standing, but when she came back around 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, she spotted some flames still burning nearby.

"We came back and we could see the hillside here is still lighting on fire," she said.

She told the fire department and they came down and tried hosing down the remaining flames. But she said "embers keeping popping" in the shrubbery nearby. "We're afraid it might catch the house on fire," she said.

At a mid-afternoon news conference, authorities said about 3,000 homes were threatened before the figure was updated later that day.

"I just want it to be over," Cindy said. "Our neighbors are all gone so it's upsetting."

Those whose homes withstood the firestorm have another challenge to face: water problems. A boil water order has been issued for the upper Ojai Valley, Casitas Springs, Foster Park and the entire city of Ventura because of the fire-related power outages.

“They sent a message to everyone to boil your water. So the people who have water," said Hodges. "And I’ve seen it, it’s cloudy, nasty looking.”

Extremely high winds, low humidities and dry fuel are making conditions about as bad as they can be, Lorenzen said.

Fire crews will resume the air attack now the daylight has arrived, Lorenzen said.

Aerial video from Sky5 showed dozens of homes throughout multiple neighborhoods that were burning or destroyed as the sun rose Tuesday morning.

Several homes destroyed in the Thomas Fire are seen on Dec. 5, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)

Several homes destroyed in the Thomas Fire are seen on Dec. 5, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)

The fire prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Tuesday. “This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we'll continue to attack it with all we've got,” Brown said. “It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so.”

Additional firefighters are expected to arrive on scene Tuesday, but the intensity of the fire, which is being pushed by strong east winds, is keeping firefighters from accessing certain areas, according to Ventura County's emergency information website.

The County of Ventura, City of Santa Paula and City of Ventura have all proclaimed a local emergency.

Firefighters will be mostly concerned with structure protection in Ventura, Santa Paula and upper Ojai as winds pick up Tuesday afternoon, Lorenzen said.

“Our goal today is to get as much information out to the public as possible and to repopulate the areas as soon as it is safe,” Lorenzen said, adding that there will probably be more evacuations ordered Tuesday.

Evacuations are in place for 27,000 people, including those living in the following areas:

  • Santa Paula - Say Road north to Thomas Aquinas, Dickenson Ranch Road east to Santa Paula Creek
  • Santa Paula -Monte Vista Street north to city limits, Foothill Road from Steckel to Peck Road to north of city limits
  • Santa Paula unincorporated area towards Ventura- North of Foothill Road from Peck Road to Wells Road; includes Wheeler Canyon, Aliso Canyon and Rancho Vista
  • Ventura - Teloma east to Brent Street, Telegraph Road north to north of Foothill Road
  • Ventura - Victoria Road east to Hill Road, Telegraph Road north to Foothill Road
  • Ventura - North Ashwood Avenue east to Hill Road, Telegraph Road north to Foothill Road
  • Ventura - North of Foothill Road from Wells Road to Poli Street
  • Ventura - North of Main Street from Seward Avenue to Highwy 33 (includes entire Ventura Avenue area)
  • Oak View - Boundary of Highway 33, Creek Road and Hermosa Road
  • Entire Community of Casitas Springs
  • East Ojai Valley - Carne Road east to McAndrew Road, Reeves Road north to Thacher Road
  • Upper Ojai Valley - Highway 150 from Dennison Grade east to Osborne Road and all residences north
  • Ventura County North Coast Area
  • Boundary of Highway 33 on the north to Casitas Vista Road, northwest to Highway 150, Highway 150 (Casitas Pass Road) west to the 101 Freeway and south on the 101 (including Pacific Coast Highway) to Emma Wood State Beach.
  • La Conchita

Voluntary Evacuations:

  • Ventura - South of Loma Vista, east of Day Road, West of Victoria Avenue and north of Telegraph Road
  • Ventura - East of Victoria north of Loma Vista South of Foothill west of Wells Road
  • All residents of the Ojai Valley not currently covered under the current mandatory evacuation
  • City of Fillmore - Second Street north to Fourth Street & Island View Street east to Pole Creek
  • City of Fillmore - Fourth Street on the south to Pole Canyon Road, Pole Canyon Road northeast to Goodenough Road, Goodenough Road south to Fifth Street and Fifth Street southeast to Fourth Street
  • City of Fillmore - Boundary of Highway 23 and the Santa Clara River south to Guiberson Road, Guiberson Road east to Torrey Road and Torrey Road north to the Santa Clara River

Several evacuation shelters are open:

  • Miners Building of the Ventura County Fairgrounds, which includes an animal shelter for all types of animals, 10 West Harbor Boulevard in Ventura.
  • Nordhoff High School, 1401 Maricopa Hwy. in Ojai
  • Oxnard College gym, 4000 South Rose Ave., in Oxnard.
  • Santa Paula Community Center, 530 West Main St.
  • A fifth shelter -- at the Veteran's Memorial Building located at 511 Second St. in Fillmore -- is scheduled to open 8 a.m. Wednesday.

About 20,000 Southern California Edison customers remain without power in Ventura County, according to the agency. Crews worked overnight to help restore power. Edison advises residents to be prepared to be without power "for days" because of damages caused by the fire.

The following school districts and colleges have been closed Tuesday due to the fire:

  • Ventura Unified School District - All schools will be closed.
  • Hueneme Elementary School District - All schools will be closed.
  • Santa Paula School Districts - All schools will be closed. 
  • Ventura Community College as well as its Santa Paula site 
  • Thomas Aquinas College
  • Mesa Union School District
  • Briggs School District
  • Mupu School District
  • Oxnard Elementary School District 
  • All Ventura County Office of Education Schools
  • Santa Clara Elementary 

Additionally, the following school closures will be in effect for Wednesday:

  • ACE Charter High School
  • Conejo Valley Unified School District
  • Fillmore Unified School District
  • Hueneme Elementary School District
  • Mesa Union Elementary School District
  • Moorpark Unified School District
  • Mupu Elementary School District
  • Ocean View Elementary School District
  • Ojai Unified School District
  • Oxnard Elementary School District
  • Oxnard Union High School District
  • Pleasant Valley School District
  • Rio Elementary School District
  • Santa Clara Elementary School District
  • Santa Paula Unified School District
  • Simi Valley Unified School District
  • VCOE Career Education Center sites
  • VCOE-Operated School Sites and classrooms
  • Ventura Unified School District
  • Thomas Aquinas College\

The fire broke out about 6:25 p.m. Monday above Steckel Park north of Santa Paula and burned along Highway 150.

Officials initially believed one person had died from a vehicle crash associated with the fire, however authorities stated Tuesday that a dead animal was located at the crash site and no human remains were found.

The fire broke out amid a red flag warning in the county Monday. Officials warned of extreme fire danger in the region hours before the blaze erupted.

A battalion chief was injured in a traffic collision Monday night, but was released Tuesday, Lorenzen said.

Gusts between 50 and 70 mph are possible through early Tuesday morning, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.