Evacuations Ordered as Wind-Driven Thomas Fire Explodes to 10,000 Acres; Homes in Santa Paula, Ventura Threatened

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This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Update: Authorities said Tuesday that only animal remains were found at the site where a person who was believed to have died in a vehicle crash associated with the Thomas Fire. No human remains were found. Updated coverage can be found here.

Thousands of homes are under evacuation orders as a wind-driven brush fire quickly grew to at least 10,000 acres, threatening homes in Santa Paula and Ventura on Monday evening and leading to the death of at least one person, Ventura County authorities said.

A wind-driven brush fire was burning out-of-control in the Santa Paula area on Dec. 4, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)
A wind-driven brush fire was burning out-of-control in the Santa Paula area on Dec. 4, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)

The Thomas Fire ignited about 6:25 p.m. above Steckel Park, in an unincorporated north of Santa Paula, and burned along Highway 150, according to Ventura County’s emergency information website.

Initial reports indicated the blaze had scorched about 50 acres and had a “rapid rate of spread,” the Ventura County Fire Department’s public information officer tweeted.

By 8 p.m., the fire had increased dramatically in size to 500 acres because of “heavy winds,” county fire officials tweeted. Within three hours, the fire had burned 10,000 acres authorities said.

Containment remained at 0 percent.

There has been one confirmed fatality associated with the fire, from a vehicle crash, authorities said.

Firefighters were dealing with numerous spot fires as a result of the difficult conditions, according to Ventura County Fire Captain Steve Kaufmann.

“There’s actually multiple different little fires out there because of the conditions that we’re seeing,” he told KTLA. “And so, because of that we’ve ordered resources from all over the region.”

The winds were driving the flames in an easterly direction, toward the cities of Santa Paula, Ojai and Ventura. Authorities said they expected the fire to reach Ventura by about 1 a.m.

Sky5 aerial video over the scene showed that structures appeared to be threatened, and by 8:30 p.m., mandatory evacuations had been ordered for over 10,000 homes.

Evacuation orders were in effect in the following area:

  • More than 430 homes east of Dickenson Road, north of Monte Vista Drive along Highway 150 and south of Thomas Aquinas College to the area of Bridge Road.
  • About 150 homes west of Dickenson Road to Atmore Road, north of Foothill Road and west to Wheeler Canyon Road
  • More than 210 homes north of the 150 from Koenigstein Road west to the Dennison Grade, north to Reeves Road, east to McAndrew Road and north to Grand Avenue.
  • Roughly 2,300 homes north of Foothill Road west to Wheeler Canyon Road, north to Canada Larga Road and east to Barlow Canyon Road.
  • Nearly 7,300 homes south of Highway 33, east of Main Street, north of Foothill Road and Hall Canyon Road, and west of Canada Larga Road.
  • All hillside neighborhoods above Foothill Road to Poinsettia Pavilion.
  • The Ondulando and Clear Point neighborhoods.
  • Neighborhoods north of Main Street to Shell Road.
  • Recommended evacuation for the area north of Poli/Foothill to the Avenue.

Kaufmann encouraged residents to register their cellphones at VCALERT.org to get the evacuation orders as they are issued.

Two evacuation shelters have been set up, one in the city of Ventura and the other in Ojai:

  • Ventura County Fairgrounds at Miners Building , at 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura (a shelter is also available here for animals and pets of all types and sizes)
  • Nordhoff High School, at 1401 Maricopa Hwy., Ojai
A fire that scorched about 2,500 acres in 2 hours prompted mandatory evacuations in the Santa Paula area on Dec. 4, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)
A fire that scorched about 2,500 acres within 2 hours prompted mandatory evacuations in the Santa Paula area on Dec. 4, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)

Authorities have not released any figures on any homes damaged or destroyed in the fire, but Sky5 video showed several structures fully engulfed in flames in Wheeler Canyon.

More than 250,000 people were without power throughout Ventura County and Santa Barbara, according to Southern California Edison. The power outages were due to the fire, according to Red Cross Ventura.

It was not immediately clear when service would be restored.

A number of road closures were also in effect, including Highway 150, which was closed in both directions between Santa Paula and upper Ojai, according to Caltrans.

Soft Road Closures (residents need proper ID to access):

  • Wheeler Canyon Road at Foothill Road
  • Highway 150 at Reeves Road
  • Highway 150 at Santa Barbara Street

Hard Road Closures (Public safely personnel allowed in only:

  • Highway 150 at Sisar Road
  • Highway 150 at Stonegate Road
  • Wells Road at Foothill Road
  • Peck Road at Foothill Road
The Thomas Fire left a trail of destruction as it burned in the Santa Paula area on Dec. 4, 2017. (Credit: Loudlabs)
The Thomas Fire left a trail of destruction as it burned in the Santa Paula area on Dec. 4, 2017. (Credit: Loudlabs)

Students at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula have also been evacuated, and classes have been canceled at the school on Tuesday.

It was not immediately known what sparked the blaze.

The fire was burning amid a red flag warning in the county that was prompted by what forecasters said could be the “strongest and longest” Santa Ana wind event this season, coupled with low humidity. Hours before the flames erupted, Officials had warned of extreme fire danger in the region between Monday night and Thursday.

Gusts of 50 to 70 mph are possible are possible between Monday night and Tuesday, when the event is expected to peak.

KTLA’s Nidia Becerra and Irving Last contributed to this story. 

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