Firefighters scrambled Wednesday afternoon to make progress against the Skirball fire burning in Bel-Air before the return of strong winds that could blow the fire across the 405 Freeway.
The blaze had grown to 475 acres and was 5% contained by 3 p.m. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropped retardant on the flames, while engine companies and hand crews worked to establish a line on the southern and western edges of the fire, near the 405.
“It’s critically important we get some containment” before the winds return, said Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Chuck Butler. “When the winds come up, they’re going to come out of the northeast, and they’re going to want to push the fire across the 405 Freeway.”
Stores and gas stations in the evacuation zone north of Highway 192 were closed, and only a scattering of residents remained in the neighborhood.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Fresno-Kings Battalion Chief Roger Raines and his platoon of more than a dozen trucks and water tenders were on hand however. It was their job to assess how vulnerable homes north of the highway between San Ysidro Road and Park Lane were to the incoming fire.
The quaint eateries, coffee shops and wine shops along Lillie Drive in Summerland were closed or empty Monday as ash fell on the quiet beach town in Santa Barbara County. Residents walked their dogs and checked the daily fire map posted on a board outside the local fire station.
Up along State Route 192, Laurent Pellerin wore a surgical mask as he packed his red Audi station wagon with winter clothes and snow chains.
The 48-year-old home decor store manager was getting ready to drive his family to Chicago for a new job when the fire closed in on his cottage near Toro Canyon over the weekend. Now they are leaving, unsure if their home will survive after they go.
The last time some of the slopes and canyons burned in the mountains east of Santa Barbara in the 1970s, four firefighters operating bulldozers died in a rollover accident.
In such difficult terrain, officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Monday that they have essentially no way to get boots and hoses on the ground to attack the western front of the Thomas fire directly.
Instead, fire crews caravanned out of the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Monday and headed to the residential streets in the south-facing foothills of Carpinteria. That’s where they set up defensive positions and waited just in case the fire moved downhill .
A Redding firefighter who was injured while battling the Thomas fire is returning home, officials said Monday.
The firefighter sustained the injury around 7 a.m. Sunday, the Redding Fire Department said in a statement . He was taken to a Santa Barbara hospital, where doctors treated a fracture to his lower leg.
“Our firefighter is in good spirits and is returning home,” the statement said.
As the Thomas fire continues to rage, burning more than 200,000 acres, wind speeds are expected to be on the lower end of what’s been seen over the last week, forecasters say.
Over Sunday night and into Monday morning, there were wind gusts of around 20 mph across the lower mountains and foothills in the region of southeastern Santa Barbara County into southwestern Ventura County.
“Wind was probably not the biggest factor last night to this morning — it’s probably more the complex terrain, very dry and possibly widespread fuels for the fire and the fact that it’s a pretty large and ongoing fire,” said Robbie Munroe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.