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.

 

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

What you need to know to vote in Canada’s federal election

Voting guide for Terrace, Kitimat up to Telegraph Creek

B.C. seniors advocate touring Northwest B.C.

Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie will be visiting Terrace, Kitimat and New Aiyansh Oct.15-17

Industrial development prompts call for highway improvements

Truck traffic to increase at Kitsumkalum project

Countdown begins for 11th annual Guns and Hoses game

Firefighters and police sharpen their skates to fundraise for youth program

VIDEO: Langley woman’s security camera records its own theft

Langley family discovers early morning grab was recorded

Canadian Snowbirds plane crashes before air show in Atlanta

Pilot lands safely after ejecting from jet

Share crash data, private insurers tell David Eby, ICBC

B.C. monopoly makes drivers retrieve their own records

B.C. VIEWS: Wolf kill, not backcountry bans, saving caribou

B.C.’s largest herds turn the corner from extinction

Pearson nets shootout winner as Canucks clip Flyers 3-2

Vancouver picks up second straight home win

Map on Elections Canada website sends Nanaimo-Ladysmith voters to landfill

Address for polling station correct, but Google Map address differs

BC Children’s Hospital launches 2 new virtual care sites bringing total to 19 across province

Provincial initiative allows pediatric patients to see health specialists through video

‘Wham-bam out the door’: Surrey man’s front yard left ruined by scamming landscaper

Resident warns neighbours to be careful of door-to-door salesmen

Most Read