Reports: Thousands forced to evacuate as wildfires rage across Southern California

By Faith Eherts, AccuWeather meteorologist
December 06, 2017, 9:08:46 AM EST

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Thousands of Southern California residents have been evacuated from their homes as firefighters continue to battle a rapidly growing wildfire enhanced by strong Santa Ana winds.

It is not known how the largest fire, dubbed the Thomas Fire, started, but officials were already on high alert due to the recently warm, dry and windy weather conditions. The fire was first reported around 6:25 p.m. PST Monday when it started north of the city of Santa Paula near Highway 150.

The blaze, located in Ventura County, continues to threaten many structures and has already encroached into the city limits of Ventura, which is home to over 109,000 residents. Santa Paula is home to about 30,000 people.

Other large fires have erupted across the region, scorching thousands of acres and prompting mandatory evacuations. The largest of these fires are the Creek Fire and the Rye Fire.

Santa Ana winds will continue to whip through Southern California through the rest of this week, threatening to spread these blazes and any new fires that ignite rapidly. 

More lives and homes will be threatened, and residents living in the Santa Ana wind-prone areas should prepare for the possibility of needing to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

"The winds will make it difficult to get air support to these wildfires," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said. "Helicopters may be able to aid firefighters, but the winds can be more problematic for larger aircraft."

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Ventura fire refugees 12/6

James and Josie Ralstin carry belongings from their Ventura, Calif., home as flames from a wildfire consume another residence on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The couple evacuated early Tuesday morning as the fire approached, but returned to retrieve medications and other property. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)



2:28 a.m. PST Wednesday

Despite over 24 hours of swiftly-spreading wildfire activity, no deaths have been attributed to the fires in Southern California. Mandatory evacuation orders now impact 200,000 people, who can shelter in one of several evacuation shelters set up around the area.

Dozens of school districts and several area colleges will remain closed on Wednesday. A full list of school and road closures, as well as important phone numbers and evacuation zones and shelters, can be found at ReadyVenturaCounty.org.

“The public did an outstanding job heeding our evacuation orders, getting out of these danger zones in a very prompt timely manner,” said Robert Welsbie, spokesman for the Ventura Fire Department.

Airplanes and helicopters are expected to "attack the fire at daybreak," according to the Ventura County Sheriff via ReadyVenturaCounty.com. Sunrise will occur at 6:45 a.m. local time.


A resurgence of stronger winds is expected to begin on Wednesday night.

"The fire danger on Thursday may become more extreme when compared to Tuesday as temperatures are expected to be higher and the strongest winds will cover a larger area of Southern California," warned AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.

Regardless of current evacuation orders, residents in the general vicinity of any fires should be prepared to evacuate at a moment's notice and have a plan to transport pets to a safe location.


9:45 p.m. PST Tuesday:

The Thomas Fire now stands at 55,000 acres, with 12,000 structures threatened. Wind gusts are currently gusting as high as 35 mph, continuing to promote the westward expansion of any fires. However, this is a significant decrease in wind speeds compared to Monday night.

A curfew has been put in place for Ventura that goes into effect daily at 10:00 p.m. local time, starting today, Dec. 5. It will last through 5:00 a.m. each day.


The Creek Fire has expanded to cover over 11,000 acres. An interactive map of the evacuation zone and evacuation centers, including those that allow pets, is available here.


6:30 p.m. PST Tuesday:

Winds are beginning to diminish across Southern California now that the sun has set, but are expected to pick up again on Wednesday. Malibu Hills recorded one of the highest wind gusts across the region with winds nearing 80mph on Tuesday afternoon.

While the winds will not be as strong overnight, people living near active fires should remain on alert.

Residents in Simi Valley, California have been asked to remain alert as the Rye Fire roars nearby. At this time, there are no evacuations in Simi Valley.



4:50 p.m. PST Tuesday:

A state of emergency has been declared in the city of Los Angeles. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garrett signed the declaration shortly before a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The Creek Fire, burning in Los Angeles County, has destroyed at least 30 structures and remains zero percent contained.



3:45 p.m. PST Tuesday:

A new fire has broken out near San Bernardino and is being called the Little Mountain fire. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered and has forced the northbound 215 Freeway to be closed. Three people were also injured as the blaze rapidly grew.

Meanwhile, the Rye Fire, burning near Santa Clarita, California, has grown to over 5,000 acres and is five percent contained, according to LA County Fire. This is an increase of 4,000 acres in just two hours.

Wind gusts over 50 mph have been reported across the region, fanning the flames and making them difficult to contain.

"The time that is most concerning appears to be Wednesday night into Thursday morning as [weather] models show some of the strongest winds during this time," AccuWeather Meteorologist Jordan Root said.

"With dry and gusty winds remaining persistent through the week, the threat for fire ignition and growth will remain high," Root added. "Fire weather conditions will present a dangerous situation for lives and property through this weekend."


1:50 p.m. PST Tuesday:

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County has grown to 50,000 acres and remains zero percent contained.

This is the largest wildfire currently burning in California and has been burning for less than 24 hours.


12:55 p.m. PST Tuesday:

The Creek Fire is the second largest wildfire burning across Southern California and has charred at least 11,000 acres and is zero percent contained.

The Sunland Senior Center, which was being used as an evacuation center for the Creek Fire, is now under evacuation, according to ABC7. The Sylmar Recreation Center remains open for evacuees.

Smoke from the Southern California wildfires are extending hundreds of miles westward over the Pacific Ocean and are visible from space.

Fire satellite

Smoke from the wildfires raging across Southern California billowing westward over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday. (Image/NASA/Terra/MODIS)



12:00 p.m. PST Tuesday:

The Rye Fire continues to grow in Santa Clarita, expanding to 500 acres with zero percent containment. As of 11:40 a.m. Tuesday, there were no evacuations for the fire.

People living in areas near the fire should prepare to evacuate if the fire continues to grow and expand near residential areas.



10:40 a.m. PST Tuesday:

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Ventura County due to the Thomas Fire, which has destroyed hundreds of homes and critical infrastructure.

“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.”

In addition to the Thomas and Creek fires, a third blaze named the Rye Fire has forced Interstate 5 to be shut down in both directions near Santa Clarita.


10:03 a.m. PST Tuesday:

The Creek Fire in Los Angeles County has now charred 4,000 acres, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. The LAFD has confirmed damage reports for an unknown number of homes, but there have not been any reports of injuries.

Over 240 firefighters with the LAFD plus additional firefighters from other agencies are working to contain the blaze.

Southern California Edison says there are no reports of power outages from the Creek Fire, which is burning under fiber optic lines.


8:56 a.m. PST Tuesday:

The Thomas Fire remains out of control and has grown to to 45,000 acres. It is still zero percent contained.

While there were initial reports of one fatality in an overturned vehicle, authorities have since confirmed that a dog was killed, but no person was found in an overturned car, according to the Associated Press.


7:28 a.m. PST Tuesday:

Satellite imagery captures the heat signature of the Thomas and Creek Fires in Southern California.

Wildfire satellite image

(Photo/NOAA)


The Thomas Fire and resulting power outages have prompted authorities to issue a boil water advisory in Ventura, California.

Thomas Fire photo

(Instagram photo/johntowers)



6:53 a.m. PST Tuesday:

A second large fire is wreaking havoc in Southern California Tuesday morning. The 1,000-acre Creek Fire began around 4 a.m. local time and the Los Angeles County Fire Department was issuing evacuations for unincorporated areas, according to the Los Angeles Times.


3:48 a.m. PST Tuesday:

The Thomas Fire has grown to 31,000 acres, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. One firefighter has sustained injuries, and 27,000 people have been evacuated.

The blaze has destroyed at least 150 structures, and one of them is reported to be Vista del Mar Hospital in Ventura.


Ventura county wildfire 12517

(Photo/Ventura County Fire Department)



2:30 a.m. PST Tuesday:

The Thomas Fire has now started moving through of the city of Ventura, with firefighters working to protect blocks of the downtown area. Dozens of homes and other buildings are reportedly already burning.

Many are taking to social media to disperse information about how to stay safe in wildfire events. Making sure to keep electronics charged in your vehicle while evacuating, dressing to cover as much skin as possible, breathing through a mask or bandanna and sheltering in a body of water as a last resort are pieces of advice many may need to heed.


The coverage of this fire has increased to 26,000 acres while still at zero percent containment.

Helicopters have reportedly taken advantage of the recent lull in the wind to begin dumping water on affected areas.


12:10 a.m. PST Tuesday:

As many as 30 mobile homes have been lost to the Thomas Fire so far as it continues to race towards Ventura.

Over 1,000 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders, with many of these located in northern and eastern Ventura. Over 260,000 customers are without power in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department is reportedly assisting in the fight against the Thomas Fire.

“The fire growth is just absolutely exponential,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “All that firefighters can do when we have winds like this is get out ahead, evacuate people and protect structures.”

The fire has been raging for about five hours and has grown to cover 25,000 acres and is zero percent contained.


It is relatively cold in this area, with temperatures currently in the 30s F away from the coast. Despite this, the incredibly dry and windy weather made conditions conducive for a fire to start and spread.

"The relative humidity will remain around 10 percent the rest of tonight and be in the 10- to 20-percent range much of the day Tuesday as well," said Pydynowski.

Thomas Fire 1 12/5

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County, CA raging towards Santa Paula on the evening of Dec. 4, 2017. (Instagram/@r_alamillo27)



10:49 p.m. PST Monday:

Mandatory evacuations have been issued for some Ventura neighborhoods. Officials are urging people to leave the area, even where evacuation notices are not in place, due to how quickly the fire is spreading.

One fatality has been attributed to this fire due to an automobile accident.

Thomas Fire 2 12/5

The Thomas Fire raging through Ventura County, Calif., on Dec. 4, 2017, as seen from a residential rooftop. (Instagram/@queenbd13)


The fire has now consumed 10,000 acres and is posing an increasingly dangerous threat to the city of Ventura where widespread power outages are occurring.

A news conference is scheduled for 11:00 p.m. PST at Santa Paula fire station no. 82.


10:07 p.m. PST Monday:

The coverage of the Thomas Fire has increased to 5,000 acres. Officials say the steep terrain and strong winds have combined to make this rapidly spreading fire particularly difficult and dangerous to contain.

All of northern Santa Paula has been evacuated, and officials expect the fire to impact the city of Ventura by Tuesday morning, where school has been canceled for Tuesday.

A list of evacuations and evacuation shelters can be found here.

A power outage is currently impacting Santa Barbara amid gusty winds and the nearby fire event.



8:55 p.m. PST Monday:

The Thomas Fire has reportedly burned 2,500 acres and has now prompted mandatory evacuations for residents of over 500 homes outside of Santa Paula.

Thomas Aquinas College, located off the closed portion of Highway 150, evacuated as a precaution earlier this evening.


The fire is now headed towards Wheeler Canyon, home of one of the largest fires in California history. Wheeler Fire devastated the region in 1985, and the valley has not burned since.


Winds continue to gust at 40 mph out of the east. The relative humidity is very low as well, at only 21 percent. Both the dry conditions and strong winds are expected to persist through the night, making this a particularly dangerous wildfire situation.


8:30 p.m. PST Monday:

The Thomas Fire has burned about 500 acres of dry brush in an area which officials report hasn't burned in about 30 years.

While some evacuations have been issued for campgrounds and some Santa Paula residents, no widespread evacuations have been ordered for the city.

Highway 150 has been shut down near the evacuation area, and the Santa Paula Fire Department has urged residents to "prepare for that possibility."



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