Most of the time living in Southern California is paradise…beautiful weather, friendly people, the mountains, and the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. That is why we live here. Unfortunately, even paradise has it’s dark side and for us it’s the wildfires.
The Thomas Fire started on December 4th in the early evening near Thomas Aquinas College (hence the name) in Ventura some 45 miles away. I didn’t become aware of it until Tuesday morning when I watched the local news and smelled smoke when I stepped outside. Santa Ana winds gusting upwards of 70 miles an hour fanned the flames and with relative humidity in the single digits, it was a perfect storm. To make matters worse, 5 other large wildfires started all over Southern California stretching resources thin. As of this writing, most of those are under control. However, the Thomas Fire still rages on burning through acres of forest and sadly neighborhoods. No one, not even the Santa Barbara fire chief thought it would make it up to Santa Barbara County…but it’s here.
As of today, December 12, the Thomas Fire has burned 237,500 acres making it the fifth largest wildfire in California history. It is only 25% contained. 100,000 people have been evacuated and 18,000 structures are threatened. 900+ structures have burned and the cost to fight this monster is upwards of $55,000,000 and rising. We now have close to 8,000 firefighters working nonstop to get it under control. It’s hard to wrap your head around numbers like these.
What is humbling and so frightening is how quickly things can change. On the third day of the fire, the picturesque town of Ojai was surrounded by flames. Unfortunately, homes on the outer fringes were lost but the town is still standing. Residents in the seaside town of Carpinteria went to bed Saturday night with a mandatory evacuation that had been downgraded to voluntary…a hopeful sign. At 2:30 am, alerts went out to evacuate immediately. Early Sunday morning, with the help of a night flying helicopter, firefighters battled to save a neighborhood. By Sunday evening the fire had burned through over 56,000 additional acres. A staggering number. I’ve learned just how unpredictable fire can be (even to the pros), and how we are at the mercy of the weather and the power of the flames.
I made the decision to leave long before the evacuation came through for our home. With my husband on the East coast, and our daughter safe in Redondo Beach, I left on Thursday, 3 days after the fire had started because the smoke was already unbearable. The hottest seller this Christmas in SoCal has been respiratory masks. They are sold out up and down the coast but luckily are being given out for free at many locations. The air quality in Santa Barbara is deemed hazardous or on a better day, unhealthy. Who would have thought there would be cleaner air in LA?
When I left I thought it was for 2 or 3 days just to escape the smoke…never dreaming that our home would be in danger from a fire that started in Ventura. I stayed at the Inn at Ragged Point on Thursday night. On Friday, my in laws generously offered me the use of their Big Sur ranch 265 miles away from Santa Barbara. Yet even here, smoke can be seen…a testament to the size and scope of Thomas.
There is no TV at the ranch which in a way is a blessing as the images are terrifying. But I do have my laptop and am able to stream our local news station which has provided incredible images and up to date information.
At this point, things are uncertain. The weather seems to be cooperating for now which is a good thing, but I have no idea when everyone will be able to return home. I am beyond grateful for our firefighters who have come from all over and our first responders for keeping us safe and fighting valiantly to save homes.
Thank you all for your prayers and good wishes. I take them all to heart and have faith that we will get through this one way or another.
I’m sharing some images from the last few days… along with the horrible, there has been much beauty and even a bit of humor.
For those who would like to help here are a few organizations:
And of course prayers are always welcome!