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The Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the fifth largest in state history, saw containment increase Tuesday from 20 to 25 percent — while acres burned also increased, from 234,200 to 236,000 acres. Winds continued to prove a problem for firefighters, officials said.
The fire continued to threaten thousands of homes as it churned through coastal mountains amid persistently dangerous weather conditions.
The fire has destroyed 705 single-family homes. Red Flag warnings for fire danger due to Santa Ana winds and a critical lack of moisture were extended through the week instead of expiring Monday afternoon as was previously forecast — they're currently set to expire Friday morning.
The cause of the Thomas Fire and several other Southern California wildfires remain under investigation, but electric utility SoCal Edison said in a Monday release that it believes the investigations by state officials "include the possible role of its facilities" and that they now include locations beyond those previously identified as the apparent origin of the fires.
Adli Huntley with the California Conservation Corps has been helping firefighters behind the front lines for more than a week now. Some days he’s worked 16 hours straight, he said.
“Imagine labor. Like, chopping trees, chopping bushes... I’m exhausted dude. But hey, I’m not gonna complain about it,” Huntley said.
There are hundreds of Conservation Corps workers doing the same thing. In shifts, they sleep in tents at the Ventura County fairgrounds, wake up and do it all again.
Huntley’s lips are chapped and cracked and he wears a bandana around his neck. He’s hoping to be off by Christmas.
“They’re saying like before Christmas, like, the 24th. So Christmas Eve,” he said.
Huntley thinks of himself like a firefighter in training. Despite the grueling work, he wants to fight forest fires for a living.
"It doesn't get much drier than this folks," the National Weather Service Service tweeted earlier, adding that more than 80 observation sites in the region reported afternoon relative humidity levels between just 1 and 9 percent.
On Monday, ash fell like snow and heavy smoke had residents gasping for air in foothill towns near Santa Barbara, the latest flare-up after a week of wind-fanned wildfires throughout the region.
With acrid smoke thick in the air, even residents not under evacuation orders were leaving, 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."
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.
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.
The National Weather Service said that if the long-term forecast holds, there will have been 13 consecutive days of dry offshore flow before it ends Friday afternoon. There have only been 17 longer streaks since 1948, including the record of 24 days set between December 1953 and January 1954.
High fire risk is expected to last into January.
City of Ventura
- North of Foothill Road from Day Road to Kimball Road
- Entire Community of Casitas Springs
- Unincorporated areas west of Ventura River, north of SR 150, east of Casitas Ranger Station, south of Los Padres National Forest
- Los Encinos Road to Burnham Road, South of SR 150, and the Lake Casitas Recreation Area south of SR 150
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 Camp Chaffee Road(Ojai) and the 101
- SR 150 at Santa Ana Road to Via Real
City of Ventura and unincorporated areas
- North of Foothill Road between Day Road to Kimball Road
City of Fillmore and unincorporated areas
- Old Telegraph Road at C Street
- Old Telegraph Road at Keith Road
- Grand Ave at Old Telegraph Road
- Sycamore Road at SR 126
- Hall Road at SR 126
Santa Barbara County
- 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
The following schools were scheduled to be closed Tuesday (and later, where noted):
Santa Barbara County
Closed through the end of the week (to reopen in January):
- Carpinteria Unified School District
- Montecito Union School District
- Cold Spring School District
- Santa Barbara Unified School District
- Hope Elementary School District
- Goleta Union School District
- Ballard Elementary School
- Santa Barbara City College
- Los Olivos
- Vista Del Mar
- Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District
- Lompoc Unified School District
- Briggs Elementary
- Mupu Elementary
- Ojai Unified
- Santa Clara Elementary
- Santa Paula Unified
- VCOE Career Education Center - Camarillo (Closed to students, open to employees)
- VCOE-operated school sites and classrooms (Closed to students, open to employees)
- Ventura Unified (Closed to students, open to employees)
John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.