Residents piled into cars and fled on Saturday as surging Santa Ana winds continued to push the massive Thomas Fire toward the wealthy enclave of Montecito. New evacuations were ordered Saturday morning and the northbound 101 freeway was closed at Seacliff. It was reopened in the early afternoon but the CHP warns drivers to expect delays and potential closures at any time.
The massive wildfire, burning in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, is now the third-largest in California's history. By Saturday late afternoon, it had chewed through more than 259,000 acres and was 40 percent contained.
That acreage exceeds the devastating Rim Fire of 2013 by 2,000 acres. It also makes the Thomas Fire larger than every city in California, except Los Angeles, according to the California Office of Emergency Services.
"There are not lot of opportunities as it works its way across the camino before it gets to the 154," where crews have built a fire break, Santa Barbara Fire Chief Eric Peterson said at a press conference late Sunday afternoon.
The Thomas Fire has destroyed more than 750 structures, most of them homes, and damaged almost 250 others. Another 18,000 buildings are still in jeopardy, including mansions in Montecito. The area is home to many celebrities including Oprah Winfrey.
On Saturday morning, new mandatory evacuation orders were issued for the Montecito and Summerland areas north of Alameda Padre Sierra/South Salinas Street and Highway 101, south of 192, east of Mission Canyon Road, and west of Hot Springs/Summit Road, west of Toro Canyon Road and east of Summit Road/east of County Club.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff also issued several evacuation orders and evacuation warnings for residents of the city of Santa Barbara.
Residents are urged to leave immediately.
Santa Barbara Sheriff bill Brown said at a press conference late Sunday afternoon that approximately 16,000 people are under mandatory evacuation and another 34,000 people are under voluntary evacuation orders.
This map is good as of 2:24 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.
At the same time, most mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders for the city of Ventura were lifted.
A Red Cross emergency shelter remains open at UC Santa Barbara's Recreation Center at 516 Ocean Road. Evacuees should park in Lot 16 and enter through the east campus entrance.
Several roads are closed in Santa Barbara County. You can stay up to date with latest road closures by following the Santa Barbara CHP.
Santa Ana winds are again driving the enormous wildfire towards these wealthy communities in the coastal mountains northwest of Los Angeles.
Winds that had eased a day earlier raged back at around 30 mph with gusts hitting 60 mph. The northerly "sundowner" wind was driving the fire south and west.
"When the sundowners surface in that area and the fire starts running down slopes, you are not going to stop it," Mark Brown with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said at a news conference. "And we are not going to stand in front of it and put firefighters in untenable situations."
The region has been under a Red Flag Warning — for hot, dry and windy conditions — for an unprecedented 13 consecutive days.
The National Weather Service says those conditions will last at least through Saturday evening, with winds gusting to 40 mph in the Santa Barbara County mountains where the fire is burning.
Winds are expected to die down in the next few days.
Santa Barbara has had only a tiny amount of rain since Oct. 1, the start of the new water year, and is more than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) below normal to date.
Some 315 fire engines are stationed in and around homes in Montecito and Santa Barbara, along with "hand crews" armed with equipment like chain saws and drop torches. Another 200 fire engines are on standby.
Steve Concialdi of the Orange County Fire Authority said authorities are hoping to have the blaze, which ignited on Dec. 4, contained by Jan. 7.
Another focus of firefighting was on the eastern flank in canyons where a state firefighter was killed Thursday near the agricultural town of Fillmore.
The medical examiner on Saturday confirmed that Cory Iverson, a 32-year-old engineer with Cal Fire, died of burns (or thermal injuries, in official terms) and smoke inhalation. No other details were released.
Iverson was killed earlier this week while battling the Thomas Fire near Fallbrook. He was the married father of a two-year-old girl and his wife is expecting another baby in the spring.
Iverson's death was a stunning blow to other firefighters.
"When that happened, this fire hit a whole new level because all the firefighters know that could have been them," Concialdi said. "When you lose a fellow brother, that hits all of us and our families extremely hard."
About 8,300 firefighters from nearly a dozen states, aided by 78 bulldozers and 29 helicopters that were dropping thousands of gallons (liters) of water on fires and hot spots.
Firefighting costs are approaching $89 million.