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Thomas Fire grows to 115,000 acres, destroying 439 homes and buildings

OJAI, CA - DECEMBER 07: A home is consumed by fire during the Thomas fire on December 7, 2017 in Ojai, California. The Thomas fire has burned over 115,000 acres and has destroyed 439 structures. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Updated 9:50 p.m. Thursday — for the latest information, go here.

Evacuations | School closures | Road closures | Air quality | Map | Ask us your questions!

The Thomas Fire continued to grow Thursday, as it spread over the Ventura County line into Santa Barbara County, now burning 115,000 acres — approximately 180 square miles.

Planning has begun for people to return to their Ventura homes, officials said. However, some voluntary evacuations in Carpinteria have been made mandatory.

Governor Brown issued an emergency proclamation for Santa Barbara County Thursday night due to the Thomas fire, and requested a Presidential Emergency Declaration for federal assistance. 

The fire has destroyed 439 homes and other buildings, according to officials, while another 85 have been damaged, officials said. It's a big increase from previously available estimates.

Santa Ana winds are expected to weaken Friday, though officials noted that the winds were unpredictable and that they expected another challenging day.

The Red Flag fire weather conditions warning has been extended to 8 p.m. Sunday. There were 2,600 firefighters battling the fire as of Thursday evening.

Cal Fire spokesman Charles Esseling said earlier on Thursday afternoon that firefighters had halted the northwest progress of the fire, stopping it near where Highway 101 meets Highway 150. 

However, another fire front spread. Officials were worried that if the winds shifted, flames might reach Carpinteria, Esseling said.

The fire had already grown rapidly overnight to 96,000 acres and 5 percent containment, prompting officials to evacuate an additional 300 residents in Carpinteria and to temporarily close a major highway that serves communities on the central coast. 

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said it evacuated residents at about 1:45 a.m. Thursday. 

Highway 101 was temporarily closed south of Carpinteria at SR 126, at first in both directions, before southbound lanes were reopened, according to the Ventura County officials. Traffic is now open in both directions, but conditions could change and force another closure at any time, California Highway Patrol officials said.

Overnight, a body was also found by the site of a vehicle accident near Wheeler Canyon, close to the Thomas Fire's burn area, authorities said Thursday.

"The cause of death has not been determined," said Senior Deputy Tim Lohman with the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. "It appears it might have been a vehicle accident."

Two firefighters have suffered minor injuries since the fire began, Lohman said, the first Monday and the second Thursday. 

"Both are expected to be ok," he said.

The Thomas Fire broke out Monday evening near Santa Paula and spread all the way to the ocean. Smoke consumed Highway 101 near Faria Beach as the fire reached the sea.

Tom Kruschke, a spokesman with Ventura County Fire, said overnight winds had not been as significant as predicted. 

"But the potential is still there, they're picking up and it's going to happen through the rest of this day," he said. "We're just going to have to wait and see what Mother Nature brings us and respond to it as best we can."

Evacuations

MANDATORY:

VOLUNTARY:

EVACUATED FACILITIES IN OJAI:

SHELTERS:

SCHOOL CLOSURES

The following districts will be closed the rest of the week:

The following schools are closed Thursday:

The following schools are planning to re-open Thursday:

ROAD CLOSURES

Hard closures (meaning only public safety personnel will have access to them):

AIR QUALITY

Air quality reached "hazardous" levels in Santa Barbara Thursday, according to the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District. Ventura County officials also reported "hazardous" air quality in the Ojai Valley.

"Ojai, the fire has burned pretty much around all four sides," said Mallory Ham of the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District. "The smoke seems to be settling down in there."

The winds in the valley weren't strong as of Thursday afternoon, so the air is fairly stagnant, he said.

"Anybody, even healthy individuals out in this kind of air for a signifiant amount of time will experience some health impact," Ham said. 

An air monitoring station in Goleta recorded "very unhealthy" levels, and in Lompoc, conditions were "unhealthy." 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association predicted smoke from the fire could make its way up the western coast of the United States. 

On Thursday afternoon, officials in the city of Monterey said wildfire smoke had reached the Monterey Bay. 

For information on how to protect yourself, read our tip sheet here.

ASK US YOUR QUESTIONS

KPCC journalists are covering the fires burning across Southern California and are working hard to answer community members' questions. Let us know what you need to know below.

 
 

This is a developing story.