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Thomas Fire anniversary comes as similar dangers persist

thomas fire VCFD PIO_2_1512461219043_9562715_ver1.0_1280_720
Ventura County Fire Department
Palm trees stand as a stark contrast of the devastating Thomas fire in December 4, 2017

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The current weather shows us that the Dec. 4 anniversary of the Thomas Fire was not as unusual as we might have thought.

Santa Ana wind conditions exist this week and multiple fires are burning in Southern California.

In 2017 when the Thomas Fire broke out, if was not widely believed that December fires could be so devastating.

Consumer Fire Protection in Goleta specializes in systems to protect structures from advancing flames and burning embers. Owner Irene Rhodes remembers the Thomas fire behavior, the fast-moving risks to populated areas and steps the public did or did not do to defend their homes.

Times have changed now.

"They are hardening their homes more, they are being more proactive and paying attention.  I think our government services are doing a better job of what they can do and also notifying people of the fires. They are doing a better job of the evacuations," said Rhodes.  

She says efforts to clear back brush are recommended, but having open windows and areas where burning embers can get into a house is also a mistake the public makes whether they are at home or have been evacuated.

Those embers can get into drapes and the carpet and burn a home from the inside out, even if it has defensible space and Spanish-style roof tilings.

The Thomas Fire broke out in the Steckel Park area of the Santa Paula hills in Ventura County. It was in an area of broken power lines and pushed by hot winds from the north at over 60 miles an hour.

It burned over 281,000 acres before it was contained on Jan. 12, 2018. That was three days after the Montecito mudflow disaster which was directly connected to the burn area from the Thomas Fire.

The fire destroyed 1,063 structures and damaged 280 others. Damages exceeded $2 billion.

The range of the fire spread out quickly and damages were severe in the City of Ventura. Nearby communities including Ojai were threatened for days.

At one point the fire burned to the ocean, on both sides of Highway 101 and near pocket communities such as La Conchita and the Hobson - Faria Beach area.

Over 100,000 residents evacuated.

The wind event was not a one-day impact. It came back with a strong force several times over a two-week period including driving fire events into Carpinteria and Montecito.

Fire officials say at the time they knew fire behavior was changing with the drought and climate issues, and this fire was an example of that in real-time.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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