Light winds, smoldering brush spark flare up within Thomas fire burn area

Firefighters work on clearing brush while a helicopter makes a water drop on a Thomas fire hot spot in the Santa Ynez Mountains.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

California’s biggest fire on record refuses to die.

On Friday morning, a smoldering area of the Thomas fire came back to life when light winds ignited a patch of unburned vegetation, sending plumes of smoke into the air over Santa Barbara, according to U.S. Forest Service public information officer Jim Mackensen.

Initial reports indicated the fire was started by a burning log that had rolled down into brush, but officials said Friday afternoon that that appeared not to be the case.

The flames spread near Gibraltar Road, a windy mountain pass loaded with million-dollar homes surrounded by grass, bushes and trees. No homes were immediately in danger but crews weren’t taking any chances, Mackensen said.


Two firefighter hand crews, one engine and two helicopters were working to put out the flames before they posed a significant threat, he said.

“Probably the biggest takeaway from this is it’s indicative of the very dry conditions,” Mackensen said. “It’s not out till it’s out.”

The progress of the fire — estimated to be between a tenth- and a quarter-acre — was stopped by 1 p.m., Mackensen said.

The Thomas fire started Dec. 4 and has burned through 281,893 acres on its way to becoming the largest brush fire since California began taking accurate records in 1932. It has burned an area larger than many major U.S. cities, destroyed more than 750 homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and claimed two lives. It is 92% contained, and more than 600 firefighters remain working on the blaze.


With the fire cutting across such a wide area — including forested lands that haven’t burned for for decades — there was a chance something unique would eventually turn up.

On Wednesday, a bulldozer digging a containment line in Santa Barbara County dredged up a bowl from the Chumash Indians that could be up to 1,000 years old, Mackensen said. The bowl was discovered by firefighters flattening a berm created by the bulldozer, he said.

Twitter: @JosephSerna



1:30 p.m.: This article was updated with reports that the fire’s progress had been stopped.

This article was originally published at 10:30 a.m.