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!
December 14: Tragically, we lost a firefighter on December 14th fighting on the front lines of the Thomas Fire. It is now 242,500 acres and 30% containment. It is the 4th largest wildfire in California history.
December 15: Day 12 and the Thomas Fire has now burned 256,000 acres and is at 35% containment. There are 8,400 firefighters battling the blaze. The forecast is for strong sundowner winds beginning tonight and continuing through the weekend. The winds will actually be pushing the fire towards homes which will make an already monumental task even more difficult for the firefighters. They are hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.
December 16: Day 13 and the worst has happened. The winds that were forecast began early this morning and were stronger than expected. With gusts of around 65 miles per hour, the fire is being pushed closer towards homes and the town of Santa Barbara. Thousands more are being asked to evacuate… up to 25,000. If ever there was a time to pray, this is it.
December 17: Day 14. Yesterday was a tough day in the fire fight. With strong winds and spot fires popping up everywhere and starting new fires, the firefighters were in a battle. In the previous days, the fire had been moving between a half mile and a mile a day. On this day it moved 4 miles and endangered many homes. At this time we don’t know how many structures were lost, but hundreds of homes were saved by an army of firefighters through true grit and bravery.
The air quality is still unhealthy but what a difference a day makes. Light winds and even peeks of blue sky through the cloud of smoke were welcome changes. Helicopters and the Superscooper plane which can hold up to 1,621 gallons of water, were able to aid the firefighters today. As it stands now, 270,000 acres have burned and we are at 45% containment. During the fire fight yesterday, winds were gusting to 70 miles per hour and 11,189 acres near and around homes burned in a short time. Two homes were lost and seven damaged but it could have been so much worse. And best of all, no one was hurt.
The pictures tell the story…
December 18: Day 15. Some positive news today. 271,000 acres have burned but we are now at 50% containment! Firefighters have tackled tons of hot spots and flare ups and are cautiously optimistic. While our home is still in the mandatory evacuation zone, other evacuations were lifted today and some exits were reopened into Santa Barbara. The town is still quite empty and shops and restaurants are hurting during this holiday season. It’s going to be a long road back, but I have confidence that we will come back stronger than ever. I love this state and my town, and am beyond grateful to all the firefighters who have done so much for us.
December 19: Day 16. Thomas is now the second largest fire in California history. It has consumed 272,000 acres and is 55% contained. Some mandatory evacuations were downgraded to warnings but we are among the 11,000 still in the mandatory zone. Firefighters have been working diligently during the calm weather putting out hot spots in preparation for a sundowner wind event tomorrow night. Fingers crossed that all goes well!
December 20: Day 16. Preparing for the sundowner winds today. I am on my way back to Santa Barbara and staying with a friend tonight as we are still under mandatory evacuation. The fire is now 60% contained!! We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the first responders and firefighters for all they have done and continue to do. Praying that the 50-60+ mph winds don’t cause any more flare ups. Tomorrow could be a big turning point…
December 28: On the 21st of December, all evacuations were lifted and folks were able to return to their homes and begin the clean up and prepare for the holidays. As I was scheduled to fly to CT for Christmas, I only had a few minutes to water some plants and grab some clothes for my trip. Inside the house seemed dusty but fine and outside was quite a mess but there will be time to deal with that when I return.
As of this writing, the Thomas Fire has burned 281,620 acres and is the largest wildfire in California history. It is now at 89% containment and down to 688 personnel. Full containment is expected on January 7th.
Thank you for all of your prayers and messages. They made what was a scary and unpredictable experience a bit easier. I’m hoping to get back to my life, work, and blog as I feel like I’ve been in a strange limbo. Appreciate life and family because things can change in the blink of an eye…