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Why Ventura fire officials can’t get an updated count of homes lost

Smoke from the Thomas Fire looms over the Ventura Pier. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Fire officials stationed at the Thomas Fire announced Wednesday that the blaze had grown to 96,000 acres – that's triple its size Tuesday.

But those same officials did not update the number of buildings lost. They've continued to repeat the same number they've used since Tuesday morning: at least 150 structures burned.

Fire spokesman Andy VanSciver, with the Santa Paula Fire Department, said it’s still too dangerous for damage assessment teams to go into neighborhoods and take count of the burned buildings. 

“We have trouble getting people into areas where we don’t feel comfortable putting people who don’t have proper fire suppression abilities or protective gear,” he said.

The assessment teams are mostly comprised of staffers from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and the City of Ventura.

In the absence of an official count, evacuees have relied on word of mouth and social networks to come up with their own tallies of how many homes and buildings have burned to the ground.

“I’ve had friends and family, you know, on social media, phone calls, and stuff, telling me that their houses have burned down," said resident Ronnie Ray Gutierrez.

A friend told him that the mobile home community where he lives, Casitas Springs, was spared. “The trailer park area is safe...but everything around it is pretty much gone."

That gives him reason to worry that the actual number of homes lost to the fire is far higher than the current estimate.

On Tuesday, Incident Commander Todd Derum told The Associated Press he suspects hundreds more homes have been destroyed by the Thomas Fire. VanSciver, however, wouldn't predict how many more homes have likely been lost.