Firefighters brace for second week of California wildfires
LOS ANGELES – The Associated Press
As Southern California enters its second week engulfed in flames, fire officials anticipate more growth and danger due to continued strong wind gusts, no rain and decades-old dry vegetation.
A powerful flare-up on the western edge of the largest and most destructive wildfire sent residents fleeing on Dec. 10, as wind-fanned flames ripped down hillsides toward coastal towns northwest of Los Angeles. New evacuations were ordered as the fire sent up an enormous plume near Montecito and Carpinteria, seaside areas in Santa Barbara County.
"The winds are kind of squirrely right now," said county fire spokesman Mike Eliason. "Some places the smoke is going straight up in the air, and others it's blowing sideways. Depends on what canyon we're in."
Southern California's gusty 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.
Gusts of up to 64 kph were expected through on Dec. 11, according to the National Weather Service.
Containment increased on Dec. 11 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 699-sq. kilometer fire that started Dec. 4 in neighboring Ventura County.
As of late Dec. 10, the Thomas Fire had destroyed 790 structures and damaged 191.
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. The governor and experts said climate change is making wildfires a year-round threat.
High fire risk is expected to last into January.