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Thomas Fire: 5th year anniversary

Joseph Ramirez captures this image of the Thomas Fire as it burns in Ventura County
Joseph Ramirez
Joseph Ramirez captures this image of the Thomas Fire as it burns in Ventura County

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. — Sunday marks the fifth year anniversary of the Thomas Fire.

The fire that burned 281,893 acres began Monday evening on Dec. 4 near Thomas Aquinas College, north of Santa Paula. Over one thousand structures, including homes, were destroyed.

Firefighters would soon take control of Thomas late December, but was officially contained on January 12, 2018 thanks to rainfall.

About 1,900 firefighters and emergency responders tackled the fire with some coming from outside California, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

The dry conditions soon turned into mudslides, wrecking havoc to towns in Santa Barbara, mainly Montecito. Ultimately, the mudslides that began on January 9, resulted in 23 deaths.

An investigation in 2019 by the VCFD concluded that the Thomas Fire was caused by an electric arc flash. Two energized power lines collided, emitting molten aluminum particles onto dry vegetation, setting off a fire.

On that day, extreme Santa Ana winds placed Ventura County and Santa Barbara County under red flag warnings. According to SoCal Edison, over 260,000 customers throughout both county's were left without power due to the heavy winds.

Within hours, fire erupted, ravishing communities in Ojai Valley and the city of Ventura. In a matter of weeks, the fire burned through Santa Barbara, causing thousands to evacuate.

Cal Fire says two deaths are linked to Thomas, in what was then California's biggest wildfire.

The first life taken was 70-year-old Santa Paula resident Virginia Pesola. He was trying to escape the fire, but died in a car crash.

Cal Fire Engineer Cory Iverson of Escondido, San Diego County was the second life taken from the fire. Iverson, 32, died combating Thomas in the Fillmore area of Ventura County on Dec. 14, 2017.

Since Thomas, there have been seven record-breaking fires, five of which happened in 2020.

According to Cal Fire, these fires are: the North Complex fire (318,935 acres; 2020), the LNU Complex fire (363,220 acres; 2020), the Creek fire (379,895 acres; 2020), the SCU Lighting Complex fire (396,625 acres; 2020), the Mendocino fire (459,123 acres; 2018), the Dixie fire (963,309 acres; 2021) and the August Complex fire (1,032,648; 2020).

Five years later, Santa Barbara County and Ventura County are doing their part to prepare for future fires of such magnitude. As of late, there have been many controlled burns throughout the Central Coast counties.

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Bryan Hernandez

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