A fire engine passes flames as a wildfire burns along Santa Ana Road near Ventura, Calif., on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Firefighters protect seaside California towns as blaze rages

A flare-up on the western edge of Southern California’s largest and most destructive wildfire sent residents fleeing Sunday

Firefighters kept a wall of flames from descending mountains into coastal neighbourhoods after a huge and destructive Southern California wildfire exploded in size, becoming the fifth largest in state history.

Thousands remained under evacuation orders Monday as the fire churned west through foothill areas of Carpinteria and Montecito, seaside Santa Barbara County towns about 75 miles (120 kilometres) northwest of Los Angeles. Much of the fire’s rapid new growth occurred on the eastern and northern fronts into unoccupied areas of Los Padres National Forest, where the state’s fourth largest fire burned a decade ago.

The blaze, which had already destroyed more than 750 buildings, burned six more in Carpinteria on Sunday, officials said. It’s just 10 per cent contained after charring nearly 360 square miles (930 square kilometres) of dry brush and timber.

“We’re still anxious. 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.”

Forecasters predicted that dry winds that fanned several fires across the region for a week would begin to lose their power Monday. But the possibility of “unpredictable” gusts would keep firefighters on edge for days, Santa Barbara County Fire spokesman Mike Eliason 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.

Containment increased on other major blazes in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties. Resources from those fires were diverted to the Santa Barbara foothills to combat the stubborn and enormous fire that started Dec. 4.

Related: Higher winds could complicate California wildfire fight

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 Santa Ana 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.

“This is the new normal,” Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown warned Saturday after surveying damage from the deadly Ventura fire. Brown and experts said climate change is making wildfires a year-round threat.

High fire risk is expected to last into January.

The air thick with acrid smoke, even residents of areas not under evacuation orders took the opportunity to leave, fearing another shutdown of U.S. 101, a key coastal highway that was closed intermittently last week. Officials handed out masks to residents who stayed behind in Montecito, the wealthy hillside enclave that’s home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Rob Lowe.

“Our house is under threat of being burned,” Ellen DeGeneres tweeted at midday Sunday. “We just had to evacuate our pets. I’m praying for everyone in our community and thankful to all the incredible firefighters.”

Ojai experienced hazardous levels of smoke at times, and officials warned of unhealthy air for large swaths of the region. The South Coast Air Quality Management District urged residents to stay indoors if possible and avoid vigorous outdoor activities.

Related: Winds churn explosive California wildfires

Despite the size and number of wildfires burning in the region, there has only been one confirmed death: The death of a 70-year-old woman, who crashed her car on an evacuation route, is attributed to the fire in Santa Paula, a small city where the Thomas Fire began.

Most of last week’s fires were in places that burned in the past, including one in the ritzy Los Angeles neighbourhood of Bel-Air that burned six homes and another in the city’s rugged foothills above the community of Sylmar and in Santa Paula.

___

Christopher Weber, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

In this Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 photo released by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames advance on homes off Shepard Mesa Road at 5:45 Sunday morning in Carpinteria, Calif. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Just Posted

Qualicum school district board reiterates support for 8-lane track at Ballenas Secondary

Officials pen another letter to Regional District of Nanaimo to clarify position

Cinema society concerned about bus garage property sale in Qualicum Beach

Group planned on commissioning a feasibility study for multi-use cinema

Women assaulted in pair of weekend attacks in Port Alberni

RCMP say no reason to suspect attacks are related, but suspects still at large

VIDEO: Feds look to help 126 Canadians quarantined in China for coronavirus

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the new virus, with more than 100 deaths

Off-duty Nanaimo Mountie takes down would-be ice cream thief

Suspect attempted to steal Dilly Bars from Dairy Queen location on Sunday

Sap thief taps Saanich park maple trees, faces hefty fine

One tree found with four taps in Mount Doug Park

Nanaimo man hit with pole in dispute over off-leash dog

RCMP say no charges recommended at this time

Was there a tornado on Vancouver Island Monday?

Suspected phone app glitch gives eerie warning

Work has started on Malahat Skywalk, expected completion in 2021

$15-million project expected to open in spring, 2021

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Uber threatens legal action to ‘defend its right’ to operate in Surrey

‘I have no concerns,’ Mayor Doug McCallum replies

Victoria resident says WestJet employee uttered racist comment, refused to let her on plane

Customer claims she was told ‘You guys can’t handle your alcohol’ by WestJet employee

Most Read