With the Thomas fire in Ventura County 10% contained Friday night, authorities announced they have lifted evacuation orders for parts of the Ojai Valley.
The area includes territory within the city limits, Creek Road, Meiners Oaks from Rice Road east, and unincorporated areas east of the city to Reeves Road, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
Areas that remain under evacuation include unincorporated areas west of Rice Road, plus Highway 33 north of Fairview Drive and Highway 150 east of Reeves Road.
Fire officials said they made good progress Friday due to weakening of the Santa Ana winds. Bill Murphy, public information officer with Cal Fire, said firefighters had a successful day fighting flames on the southern edge toward the coast as well as in parts of Ojai thanks to favorable wind patterns, diminished Santa Anas and crews improving fire lines they had established.
By Friday evening, the Thomas fire had burned 143,000 acres and was at 10% containment. As a result, Murphy said, evacuation orders for most of Ventura and Santa Paula were lifted. Firefighters continued to encounter difficulty on the east side of the fire above Fillmore.
Firefighters used helicopters to drop water in that area to try to contain the blaze. Firefighters also made progress on Highway 33 and U.S. 101 on the west side of the fire. They said activity in that area has decreased from previous days.
Dry Santa Ana winds will roar back to life in San Diego County over the weekend, and some of the strongest gusts could hit the area of the Lilac fire, according to the National Weather Service.
“The winds will begin to gradually pick up on Saturday afternoon, mostly in the East County foothills, from Julian to Alpine,” said Alex Tardy, a weather service forecaster.
“By sunrise Sunday, the winds could be gusting 55 to 65 mph in the foothills. Then the winds will spread out. It looks like they’ll gust 20, 30 and maybe 40 mph where the Lilac fire is. And some of the winds will spread all the way to the coast.”
For 24 hours since the Lilac fire broke out Thursday, Pat Bailey has been searching for her 93-year-old husband, Ralph.
“He’s been missing since yesterday morning,” she said, after checking the evacuation shelter at Palomar College on Friday morning.
She said her husband is slightly built, gray-haired and bent over and uses a walker. He may have been wearing a turquoise T-shirt, and had a blue and white parakeet with him. Friends helped her call police, fire and sheriff’s officials.
All Los Angeles Unified schools closed because of the wildfires will reopen Monday, the district announced.
“The decision to reopen schools was based on improved air quality and the lifting of mandatory evacuations that affecting school communities,” a district advisory stated. Over the weekend, the district is employing crews to install new air filters at the closed schools, and to otherwise prepare them for the return of students.
Many schools across Ventura, Riverside, San Diego and Los Angeles counties were closed Friday because of the fires.
With a fleet of four fixed-winged aircraft, 15 helicopters and more than 1,000 firefighters, state fire officials said Friday they are confident they can keep the Lilac fire at bay and avoid further mandatory evacuations.
An estimated 10,000 residents were evacuated when the Lilac fire broke out near the 15 Freeway in Bonsall on Thursday afternoon and destroyed at least 85 structures, many of them homes.
The fire has grown to 4,100 acres and was 0% contained Friday morning, said Cal Fire San Diego spokesman Kendal Bortisser.
Individually, none of this fall’s fires in Northern California came close to the acreage of the 132,000-acre Thomas fire in Ventura County, though combined, the blazes up north scorched more than 240,000 acres.
The deadliest fire in Northern California, the Tubbs, burned 36,807 acres and was responsible for 22 deaths, sweeping through swaths of Santa Rosa.
Though wind speeds were comparable, “You had 10 large fires within the fires two hours up in Northern California” when the firestorms began, said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean, compared to just a few in Southern California.