Multiple fires are raging in Southern California. A series of Santa Ana wind-driven wildfires have destroyed hundreds of structures, forced thousands to flee and smothered the region with smoke in what officials predicted would be a pitched battle for days.

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The 'enormous' Thomas fire could burn for a few more weeks, fire chief says

Fire personnel keep an eye on the Thomas fire on Toland Road near Santa Paula. (Michael Owen Baker)
Fire personnel keep an eye on the Thomas fire on Toland Road near Santa Paula. (Michael Owen Baker)

Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said if the wind continues, and rain doesn’t touch the region, the Thomas fire could continue for a few more weeks. 

“Until the wind stops blowing, there’s really not a lot we can do as far as controlling the perimeter, so our opportunities are hopefully going to come in tomorrow as the wind lets up,” Lorenzen said. Then, he said, the firefighters can place line around the blaze and contain part of it, but “this is a fight we’re going to be fighting probably for a couple of weeks.”

While there was once such a thing as a predictable wildfire season, Lorenzen said that season now seems to last all year — a shift, he said, potentially triggered by six years of drought and climate change.

At last count, the Thomas fire had consumed 96,000 acres, but as the fire expanded around Ojai and into the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County, that acreage will likely grow.

Fire in the forest area, Lorenzen said, presents new challenges: The dryness provides ample fuel for the fire to spread.

“There’s no road out there, and the wind is pushing it,” Lorenzen said. “You can’t put anybody out in front of it.”

This week, the fire destroyed an undetermined number of homes in Ojai.

“My hope is that within a week, the issues around the population areas are going to be gone, but then it’s still going to be up in the forest in the wilderness areas, and it’s a challenge,” Lorenzen said. “It’s hard to get [there]. The size and the scope of this thing is going to be enormous.” 

Lorenzen said the public seems more apt to follow mandatory evacuation orders after the Santa Rosa fires.  “We are being really, really proactive about evacuating in advance of the fire,” Lorenzen said. “So just tell people to be prepared. Be ready to go, and when the time comes, just leave.”

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