Wind gusts that helped push a massive wildfire into Santa Barbara County this weekend were growing weaker Monday, but authorities say the week-old Thomas fire still threatens the coastal enclaves of Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito.
After watching the fire race west over the Ventura County line and explode to 230,500 acres overnight, firefighters struggled to increase overall containment to 15%.
“Wind was probably not the biggest factor last night to this morning — it’s probably more the complex terrain, very dry and possibly widespread fuels for the fire and the fact that it’s a pretty large and ongoing fire,” said Robbie Munroe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The fire is in the top five of California’s largest modern fires. On Sunday, it had surged into the Santa Barbara County foothills, forcing evacuations in the coastal communities of Carpinteria and Montecito.
As the fire grew Sunday, containment had dropped from 15% to 10%, authorities said. By Sunday evening, the blaze had scorched 230,000 acres.
The number of structures destroyed stands at 798, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Wind speeds are expected to be on the lower end of what’s been seen over the last week, forecasters say.
Over Sunday night and into Monday morning, there were wind gusts of around 20 mph across the lower mountains and foothills in the region of southeastern Santa Barbara County into southwestern Ventura County.
The strongest winds are expected more toward the Ventura-Los Angeles County line, Munroe said.
“Even that is not expected to be particularly strong, but since it’s so dry out there it doesn’t take much in the way of winds to create those critical fire weather conditions,” he said. “We’ll see wind gusts in that … area between 20 and 35 mph, maybe a few mountain sites might see up to about 40, but that’s the most we’re expecting right now.”
The winds near the Thomas fire might be a little bit stronger from the north later on Monday night into early Tuesday morning, Munroe said, possibly 5 mph stronger.
“Right now it doesn’t look too terribly strong, but really any increase in wind is something to watch out for given this fire’s history.”
Since it erupted near Thomas Aquinas College north of Santa Paula on Dec. 4, the Thomas fire has forced 88,000 people to flee their homes. Official estimates have put the cost of combating the blaze at $25 million.
In Los Angeles County, firefighters made progress on blazes in Sylmar, Santa Clarita and Bel-Air. The Creek fire was 95% contained, and the Rye fire was 93% contained as of Sunday evening. The Skirball fire was 85% contained.
In northern San Diego County, the Lilac fire, which was 80% contained, had burned 4,100 acres and destroyed more than 100 structures along the Highway 76 corridor that stretches west from the 15 Freeway through Bonsall and Fallbrook.
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