Evacuation orders have been extended to Santa Barbara on Monday as the out-of-control wildfire continues to grow.
Santa Barbara is now threatened by the rapidly-growing Thomas Fire, as thousands of firefighters battle several infernos burning through Southern California.
The fire grew by 50,000 acres on Sunday as dry Santa Ana winds continued, triggering evacuation orders throughout Santa Barbara County. One death has been blamed on the Thomas Fire: the body of 70-year-old Virginia Pesola was discovered at a car crash site on an evacuation route in Ventura County on Wednesday night, according to NBC.
Over 9,000 firefighters are working across the region to contain the blazes. Over 1,000 structures have been damaged or destroyed, and 98,000 people have been forced to evacuate since the fires started a week ago.
The first and largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, started Oct 4 in Ventura County. Its flames reached the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday. Several cities in the Ojai Valley were under mandatory evacuation orders on Saturday, though some of those orders have been lifted. Officials issued a new round of evacuations for residents in Santa Barbara on Sunday, however, and warned that they may order more on Monday.
Mandatory evacuation orders now affect nearly 100,000 people, down from 200,000 last week.
The Skirball fire in Bel Air threatened the Getty Center art museum, though firefighters had contained 85% of the blaze by Monday morning and the museum remained unharmed.
Officials called the combination of dryness and powerful winds a "recipe for explosive fire growth." Wind gusts of up to 80 mph were recorded on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Mark Lorenzen, the Ventura County fire chief, told reporters that the fires' spread had been "absolutely exponential."
The region is still under a "red flag" advisory. Forecasters expect the winds to subside this week, though there is still no rain in the immediate forecast.
"We're chasing the fire trying to get ahead of it, trying to get in front to provide structure defense," David Richardson, the Los Angeles County deputy fire chief, told the LA Times.
"There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds," Ken Pimlott, California's fire chief, told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "At the end of the day, we need everyone in the public to listen and pay attention. This is not 'watch the news and go about your day.' This is 'pay attention minute-by-minute … keep your head on a swivel.'"
Lorenzen told The LA Times on Thursday that if rains don't fall on the region, the Thomas Fire could continue burning for weeks. That prediction has held up as of Monday, as the fire continues to grow.
"My hope is that within a week, the issues around the population areas are going to be gone, but then it’s still going to be up in the forest in the wilderness areas, and it's a challenge," Lorenzen said. "It's hard to get. The size and the scope of this thing is going to be enormous."
Officials urged residents to wear masks outside, as the air quality near the fires was rated "hazardous" — the worst classification.
Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, freeing up state funds to help tackle the wildfires.
"This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we'll continue to tackle it with all we've got," Brown said. "It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so."
Brown called the fires a "new normal," over the weekend, since this year's devastating wildfire season is part of a larger trend fueled by climate change.
"This could be something that happens every year or every few years," Brown said on Monday, per The Los Angeles Times. "We're about to have a firefighting Christmas."
Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles' mayor, told reporters on Friday, "these are days that break your heart, these are also days that show the resilience of our city."
Hours before the blazes started on Monday, the NWS warned that there would "be the potential for very rapid spread of wildfire" and "extreme fire behavior." Fire danger was rated a 296 on the brush burning index on Thursday — a record, according to CNN. The figure is calculated based on moisture levels, wind, humidity, and a range of other factors. A rating above 162 is considered the most extreme risk.
California has been ravaged by wildfires in recent months. In October, a series of fires destroyed communities in Northern California's Napa and Sonoma counties in what is considered the deadliest wildfire in the state's history. Experts said at the time that it would take years for the state to recover.
Here's a map of the location of the current fires:
And here's a map showing all of the areas under a red-flag warning, where there is the highest risk of fire: