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)

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)

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:

Voluntary Evacuations:

Several evacuation shelters are open:

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:

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

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.

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