Sunday, December 17, 2017

Residents Flee As California Wildfires Spread

California fire: Neighborhood looks like 'war zone,' resident says

Latest developments

• Cause of death: Firefighter Cory David Iverson, 32, died of "thermal injuries and smoke inhalation," according to autopsy results from the Ventura County medical examiner's office. Iverson lost his life battling the Thomas Fire on Thursday. A total of two people have been killed since the fire started. 
• Hefty price tag: About $110 million has been spent fighting the massive blaze, fire officials said. It was 40% contained Saturday night. 
• Can't catch a break: Firefighters are up for a challenging day Sunday as high winds are expected to fan the flames. Red-flag warnings are in effect for a large swathe of Southern California through late Sunday, with wind gusts of up to 55 mph expected overnight, according to CNN meteorologist Gene Norman.
• So many firefighters: The Thomas Fire is so massive, more than 8,400 firefighters are working around the clock to save lives and contain it. 
• Moving up the record: The blaze has charred 267,500 acres, and is now the third-largest wildfire in modern California history. 


Twelve thousand people were evacuated in Santa Barbara County, with animals at the local zoo threatened as well. Santa Barbara Zoo closed Saturday and many animals were placed into cages in case of possible evacuations, zoo officials said.
Only the endangered California condors and griffon vultures were taken to the Los Angeles Zoo, according to officials. The zoo had kept most animals indoors, away from smoke.
Oprah Winfrey, who has a home in one of the areas under evacuation orders, tweeted about the fire Saturday. 
"Still praying for our little town," she said. "Winds picked up this morning creating a perfect storm of bad for firefighters," she said.

Meanwhile, residents who had evacuated their homes in Ventura County -- where the fire began-- were allowed to return Saturday. Jim Holden considers himself lucky that firefighters saved his home and items. 
"They put a water screen between my house and the house next door that was burning in an attempt to save it, but they didn't think they were going to be successful," he told CNN affiliate KABC. "They broke in and they saved my family photos and my computer, and things that they thought would be important to me."

 Residents piled into cars and fled on Saturday, turning downtown Santa Barbara into "a ghost town" as surging winds drove one of the biggest fires in California's history toward the city and the nearby wealthy enclave of Montecito.
The mandatory evacuations around Montecito and neighboring Summerland came as winds that had eased a day earlier roared back at around 30 mph (48 kph), with gusts to about 60 mph (97 kph). Firefighters sprayed water onto hot spots sparked by wind-blown embers. Firefighters also drove to the historic San Ysidro Ranch in yellow fire trucks as heavy smoke rose from the coastal hills, blotting out the blue skies.

A portion of Santa Barbara was under mandatory evacuation. At the city's zoo, workers began putting some animals into crates and kennels, to ready them for possible evacuation.
In downtown Santa Barbara, Maya Schoop-Rutten, owner of Chocolate Maya, said she saw through the window of her chocolate shop smoke suddenly appear after strong winds blew through.
"It was absolutely incredible," she said. "There was a huge mushroom of smoke that happened in just a matter of a few minutes."
Restaurants and small stores on normally bustling State Street were shuttered.
"It's a ghost town. Everything is shut down," Schoop-Rutten said. "It's very, very eerie."
The northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 101, coming up the coast from Los Angeles, were closed for a few hours south of Santa Barbara, with cars stopped on the freeway.

The 404-square-mile (1,046-sq. kilometer) Thomas Fire was moving rapidly westward and crested Montecito Peak, just north of Montecito. Known for its star power, the enclave boasts the mansions of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and many other celebrities.

As the northerly "sundowner" wind was driving the fire south and west, firefighters could only hope it would calm back down.
"When the sundowners surface in that area and the fire starts running down slopes, you are not going to stop it," Mark Brown, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told a news conference. "And we are not going to stand in front of it and put firefighters in untenable situations."
Everything about the fire has been massive, from the sheer scale of destruction that cremated entire neighborhoods to the legions attacking it: about 8,300 firefighters from nearly a dozen states, aided by 78 bulldozers and 29 helicopters.
The cause remains under investigation. So far, firefighting costs have surpassed $100 million.

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