A fire burns near Lake Casitas. Lots of helicopters fly overhead, dipping into the lake for water. Lots of power lines that they have to watch for. Luckily, there isn’t much wind in this area. #ThomasFirepic.twitter.com/JdwJwm7VyA
On Thursday afternoon, helicopters hauling water dipped into Lake Casitas, west of California 33, and headed to a fire near the Ojai Valley. Fires dotted the hillsides along California 150. A mix of firefighters in trucks and helicopters worked to extinguish those fires, steering them away from the towns of Casitas Springs and Oak View.
Through Wednesday night and into Thursday, the Thomas fire spread significantly around Ojai and into the Los Padres National Forest. Officials have feared the fire could last for weeks if the area doesn't see any rain and if high winds continue.
The Lilac fire, which began Thursday afternoon near the 15 Freeway and Highway 76, was threatening 1,000 structures and had grown to 500 acres by 1 p.m., according to Cal Fire San Diego.
#LilacFire [update] The fire is growing at a dangerous rate of spread with 1,000 structures threatened. Five structures have been destroyed & an unknown amount have been damaged. Hwy 76 is closed in both directions. pic.twitter.com/Es94riT5zz
Southern California may get the Santa Ana winds every year, but — according to recorded history — they’ve never been like this.
With relative humidities in the single digits along the coastal mountains, where a series of fires has scorched thousands of acres and destroyed more than 100 homes, the air is the driest it’s been here in recorded history, said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.
“The [relative] humidities right now along the coast are much drier than what you’d normally see in the interior desert in the summertime,” Swain said. “Once you get down to 1% or 2%, you’re down almost as low as is physically possible.”
Even as fiery tornadoes of flames began climbing the slopes of the remote box canyon he calls home Thursday morning, Jayson Kaufman figured he still had plenty of time to pack his valuables and head down mountain to Ojai.
To the chagrin of Ventura County sheriff’s deputies who issued a mandatory evacuation order the previous night, Kaufman was among 15 to 20 canyon dwellers who refused to leave their rustic cabins and geodesic domes tucked in dry brush.
“We’re monitoring the situation — and the clarity of the air — closely,” he said, eyeballing clouds of smoke filling the skies on both ends of the densely forested canyon. “This morning, the sky was super clear until about 10 a.m. Now, we’re playing it by ear.”
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.
She is taking her two daughters, ages 4 and 6, to Palm Desert — away from the growing winds that for days have filled the skies with smoke and ash and now threaten her home, which sits up a hill on a windy street on North Bundy Drive and Chalon Road in Brentwood.
She didn’t plan on returning to her white-wooded house until Sunday. As she placed bags of clothes in the back seat of her black SUV, she said that many of her neighbors already had chosen to evacuate.
Gentler-than-expected winds Thursday morning gave firefighters a toehold against the wildfire burning in Bel-Air, which was 20% contained by 11 a.m.
The 475-acre Skirball fire has not grown in nearly a day, a testament to the overnight assault that crews launched on the western and northern edges of the fire, closest to the 405 Freeway and multimillion-dollar homes, officials said.
Despite the progress, the fight was far from over, officials said. Thursday afternoon, firefighters will face bone-dry air with a relative humidity of 4%, and 33 mph winds out of the northeast that could push the fire toward the 405.