Updated 6:38 p.m.
The Thomas Fire exploded in size over the weekend, but only grew a small amount Monday, with containment increasing from 15 to 20 percent while the fire ticked up to 231,700 acres burned.
The fire has destroyed 869 buildings, according to the latest totals. There are 18,000 structures that remain under threat.
Officials say the Thomas Fire, which broke out a week ago in Ventura County, is now the fifth largest in California history. According to earlier estimates, the total cost of the fire to date is more than $38 million.
Ash fell like snow and heavy smoke had residents gasping for air Monday as the fire drove celebrities from the area.
With acrid smoke thick in the air, even residents not under evacuation orders took the chance to leave, fearing another shutdown of a key coastal highway that was closed intermittently last week.
Officials handed out masks to those who stayed behind in Montecito, an exclusive community about 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles that's home to stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Drew Barrymore.
Actor Rob Lowe wore a mask as he live-streamed his family evacuating Sunday from their smoke-shrouded home.
"Praying for the people in my area," he said to his Instagram followers. "Hope everybody's getting out safe like we are, and thanks for the prayers and thoughts. And good luck to the firefighters, we need you!"
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that neighbors were helping each other and their animals get to safety.
"I'm sending lots of love and gratitude to the fire department and sheriffs. Thank you all," she wrote.
Customers coming into Jeannine's American Bakery in Montecito brushed ash from their clothes and marveled at smoke so heavy that visibility was down to just a few feet.
"There's so much ash it's unbelievable," manager Richard Sanchez said. "Everything is white. The streets are covered, cars are covered, our parking lot is covered."
Amtrak canceled service through the city of Santa Barbara, and its nearly 200-year-old mission church was closed because of smoke and ash. Authorities issued repeated alerts about unhealthy air and warned people to stay indoors, avoid vigorous outdoor activities and not do anything to stir up ash.
Dr. Helene Gardner, an expert in air quality at University of California, Santa Barbara, watched ash fall "like a fine snow" from her home after the school postponed final exams until January. She said her environmental sciences students got a kick from the fact that the delay was directly related to their field of study.
Gardner warned that the air alerts should be taken seriously because of airborne particulates — "nasty buggers" that can lodge in lungs and cause respiratory problems.
She said the levels of particulates from a wildfire can approach those seen near coal-burning plants in pollution-heavy China and are especially problematic for people exerting themselves.
"When I look out my window and see someone bicycling I think, 'No, no, no, get off your bike and walk!'" she said.
Forecasters predicted dry winds that spread fires throughout the region for a week would begin to lose their power Monday. Light gusts were driving the flames away from communities, Santa Barbara County fire spokesman Mike Eliason said. But the possibility of "unpredictable" gusts would keep firefighters on edge, he said.
"I'm not frightened yet," Carpinteria resident Roberta Lehtinen told KABC-TV. "I don't think it's going to come roaring down unless the winds kick up."
Crews aided by calm overnight winds kept a wall of flames from descending from mountains into coastal towns over the weekend. The area hasn't burned since 1932, according to Cal Fire officials.
After a full week of fighting the continually growing fire, Cal Fire's Charles Esseling told KPCC that some fire personnel are losing steam.
"There are people who are being exhausted, but this is what everybody signed up for," Esseling said. "People are coming into base camp, they're smiling, they're doing their job and we're doing the best we can."
Thousands remain under evacuation orders Monday as the fire churns west through foothill areas of Carpinteria and Montecito, Santa Barbara County seaside towns about 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Much of the fire's new growth occurred on the eastern and northern fronts into unoccupied areas of Los Padres National Forest.
A Red Flag Warning is in effect for most of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties through 8 p.m. Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service. Gusty winds and low humidity contribute to volatile fire conditions, so officials recommend using "extreme caution" when using potential fire ignition sources.
The fire is also causing power outages and surges for up to 85,000 people throughout the Santa Barbara area and 2,432 people in the Ventura area, according to Southern California Edison. The company's damage assessment teams are working to replace the damaged poles.
Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region's most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.
Firefighters gained more control over other major blazes in Southern California and diverted resources to the Santa Barbara foothills to combat the enormous fire that started Dec. 4.
Fires are not typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the winds. Though the state emerged this spring from a yearslong drought, hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region over the past six months.
High fire risk is expected to last into January.
President Donald Trump received a lunchtime briefing on the government's response to California's wildfires.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also briefed Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on a wildfire prevention roundtable he participated in Monday.
Trump has declared a state of emergency in the state and ordered federal agencies to help with the efforts.
Walters says the White House "continues to closely monitor the situation" and is urging "anyone ordered to evacuate during a wildfire, do so immediately and listen to your local and state officials."
She also says the White House "extends its thoughts and prayers" to everyone affected by the fires that have been tearing through Southern California.
Most of the evacuation orders have been lifted in Ventura County, but not all — especially in the neighborhoods hit hardest by the fire. More city of Ventura and Ojai evacuations were lifted Monday.
Officials let people in some evacuation areas return home Saturday to get medications and other personal belongings. Some returned to find their homes destroyed.
Andrea Reynolds, one of the lucky ones whose home was intact, told KPCC media partner NBC-4, "I feel sort of guilty because we have a house and all of our friends do not. But we're going to share out home with them."
City of Ventura
- North of Foothill Road from Day Road to Kimball Road
Entire Community of Casitas Springs
- Evacuate to Ventura County Fairgrounds - 10 West Harbor Blvd., Ventura
- North of Hwy 150 heading to Hwy 33 and south of Los Padres National Forest
Unincorporated areas west of Rice Road
- Los Encinos Road to Burnham Road, South of SR 150
Upper Ojai Valley (West)
- Hwy 33 north of Fairview Drive- Matilija Canyon
Unincorporated Ventura County Area
- Residents and day visitors of Rose Valley
Ventura County North Coast Area
- Boundary of Hwy 33 on the north to Casitas Vista Road, northwest to Hwy 150, Hwy 150 (Casitas Pass Road) west to US 101 and south on US 101 (including Pacific Coast Highway) to Emma Wood State Beach
Unincorporated area of Fillmore
- The area of Hall Road to the west, Sespe Creek to the east, Fillmore City limits to the south, and Los Padres National Forest boundary to the north
Santa Barbara County
- North of Highway 192 to East Camino Cielo between Highway 150 and Mission Canyon Road.
- Hot Springs Road to Buena Vista Road, from Highway 192 north to East Camino Cielo
- Buena Vista east to the County line and north of Highway 192 (E. Valley Road), to include the 900 block of Park Lane east.
- Carpinteria area East of Toro Canyon Rd. East to HWY 150, North of Hwy 192 to Camino Cielo.
- Carpinteria area East of intersection of Casitas Pass Rd & Hwy 192, North of Hwy 192, & West of the county line.
- SR-192 north to E.Camino Cielo between Toro Canyon Rd and Linden Ave.
- Shepherd Mesa, Gobernador Canyon and Rincon Point.
- Casitas Pass Road east to Highway 33, Spring Street to Loma Drive. (Includes Rice Road east to Loma Drive. Baldwin Road north to Besant Road)
Unincorporated area of Fillmore
- Sespe Creek to the west, Burson Ranch to the east, Fillmore City limits to the south, and Los Padres National Forest boundary to the north.
Santa Barbara County
- Above (North of) Highway 192 between Mission Canyon and Highway 154
- South of Highway 192, east of Mission Canyon, west of Hot Springs, north of APS, Salinas Street and Highway 101 to Hot Springs
- East of Hot Springs, South of Highway 192, West of Highway 150
City of Ojai, Ojai Valley and unincorporated areas
- SR 150 (Casitas Pass Road) between Santa Ana Rd(Ojai) and the 101
- SR 150 at Santa Ana Road to Via Real
- SR 33 Northbound at Fairview Rd
City of Ventura and unincorporated areas
- North of Foothill Road between Harmon Canyon Road and Hall Canyon Road
- North of Poli Street from Hall Canyon Road to Cedar Street
City of Fillmore and unincorporated areas
- Old Telegraph Road at C Street
- Old Telegraph at Keith Road
- Sycamore Road at SR 126
- Hall Road at SR 126
Santa Paula unincorporated area
- Cummings Road at Foothill Road
- Peck Road at Foothill Road
- Olive Road at Foothill Road
- Toland at SR 126
- Timber Canyon at SR 126
- Briggs at Foothill Road
- Bridge at SR 126
- Telegraph Rd at SR126
Santa Barbara County
- Hard closures:
- Linden Avenue and Highway 192
- Santa Monica Road and Highway 192
- Cravens Lane and Highway 192
- Nidever Road and Highway 192
- Toro Canyon Road at Highway 192 and at Ladera Lane
- Highway 192 and Highway 150
- Highway 192 and Casitas Pass Road
- Highway 150 at Via Real
- Highway 150 and Gobernador Canyon Road
- Soft closures:
- Gibraltar Road from City Limits to East Camino Cielo
- E. Camino Cielo from Highway 154 East to Gibraltar
- Painted Cave from Highway 154 East to East Camino Cielo
Santa Barbara County:
Closed Monday —
- Adelante Charter
- Goleta Union School District
- Hope Elementary School District
- Peabody Charter
- Santa Barbara Charter
- Santa Barbara Unified School District
- Santa Barbara Community College
Closed Monday and Tuesday —
- Carpinteria Unified School District
|Briggs Elementary||CLOSED Monday and Tuesday|
|Fillmore Unified||CLOSED to students Mon.|
|Ojai Unified||CLOSED all week (Dec. 11-15)|
|Santa Clara Elementary||CLOSED|
|Santa Paula Unified||CLOSED to students Mon. & Tues. Staff returns Tues.|
|VCOE Career Education Center - Camarillo||CLOSED to students Mon. & Tues. Staff returns Tues.|
|VCOE-operated school sites and classrooms||CLOSED to students Mon. & Tues. Staff returns Tues.|
|Ventura Unified||CLOSED to students Mon. & Tues. Staff returns Tues.|
Officials in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties warned of continuing unhealthy air quality Monday and said free N-95 masks would be distributed to affected residents.
Officials provided the following list of free distribution sites (you can also see them in the map above).
Santa Barbara County:
- Costco in the Camino Real Marketplace (7095 Market Pl Drive, Goleta), 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
- Franklin Community Center (1136 East Montecito Street, Santa Barbara), 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
- Albertson’s in Carpinteria (1018 Casitas Pass Road, Carpinteria),10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
- Santa Barbara Public Library, 40 East Anapamu Street, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
- Lompoc Home Depot (1701 East Ocean, Lompoc), 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.
- Santa Paula Community Center (530 W Main St, Santa Paula)
- Ventura County Fair – Red Cross Shelter (10 W. Harbor Blvd, Ventura)
- Beth Torah Temple (7620 Foothill Road, Ventura)
- Oxnard College Gymnasium – Red Cross Shelter (4000 S Rose Ave, Oxnard)
- Nordhoff High School (1401 Maricopa Hwy, Ojai) — look for the Red Cross vehicle
While the masks can help, officials advised that only adult-sized masks are available and will provide only limited protection for many children because they require a tight seal.
Ordinary dust masks and surgical masks don't protect from the fine particles found in smoke.
This story has been updated.