Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Dec. 5 due to the 38,000 acres of Ventura County on fire and mandatory evacuation of over 50,000 residents. The fire has since grown to 90,000 acres. While the source of the Thomas Fire is unknown, Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) has been on high alert this fall because of strong Santa Ana winds and dry conditions.
VCFD was dispatched on Dec. 4 at 6:25 p.m. to fight a small brush fire near Santa Paula in Ventura County. Since then, the fire spread at speeds up to 50 mph to the city of Ventura, with battling winds, said VCFD public information officer Rick Macklin.
16 regions of Ventura County from Santa Paula to the Ojai Valley are under mandatory evacuation and evacuation has been encouraged in three additional regions.
“We are working every minute to try and get a containment number on this fire,” Macklin said, at 4 p.m. pm Dec. 6. “The fire is still progressing in heavy fuels with steep terrain and we are not able to get in front of this fire as of yet.”
Macklin said the damages are already in excess of $2.5 billion including oil, gas, infrastructure and property damages.
As of Tuesday morning, the Thomas Fire has crossed Highway 101, burning beside the ocean. With zero percent containment and almost 2,000 firefighters dispatched, two have been injured on the field but no civilians have been harmed.
Though the Thomas Fire is burning almost 250 miles south of Santa Cruz, many UC Santa Cruz students are concerned for family and friends in Ventura County. Third-year Estefania Martinez is one UCSC student whose family has been evacuated.
“Last night I was able to get some sleep, but I woke up still very concerned and worried,” Martinez said. “I didn’t know if the fire had reached our home or was close to our home at the moment.”
Martinez’s family is staying with friends in a city neighboring Ventura, but the county has opened five evacuation centers. VCFD does not predict to have containment until the winds die down and it is able to attack the fire more aggressively from the air.
“A lot of the people [who] I went to high school with, they keep tweeting and a lot of them have lost their homes already,” Martinez said. “It’s just very sad to hear that my community is struggling through this.”