The Thomas fire raging just outside the city of Ventura is having multiple impacts on Santa Barbara County, from causing power outages and disrupting cell service to interrupting mental health care and destroying government employees’ homes, officials said Tuesday morning.
Briefing the Board of Supervisors at the start of their meeting, County Fire Chief Eric Peterson called the Thomas fire “a very major fire” and said the 45,000 acres it grew to by Tuesday morning was “astounding for one night’s fire.”
Peterson said in one five-hour period, the fire spread 25,000 acres. A total of 27,000 people have been evacuated through door-to-door notification, and 150 structures have been destroyed, he said.
Although there were some reports of fatalities, Peterson said he had no confirmation of that because information coming from the area was sketchy.
“It’s total chaos down there,” he told supervisors.
However, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said one person was killed when his car overturned while he was trying to evacuate.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Ventura County on Tuesday morning, and as of Tuesday afternoon, the fire was at zero containment, officials said.
The fire broke out at about 6:20 p.m. Monday near Thomas Aquinas College on North Ojai Road, which is also Highway 150, and grew rapidly westward, fed by powerful offshore winds that earlier in the day prompted the County Office of Emergency Management to issue a red flag warning for fire danger.
“It’s burning behind Highway 150, behind Ventura city,” Peterson said. “It’s a classic Santa Ana condition.”
But he added that the offshore winds are forecast to only get worse, noting they’re expected to peak on Thursday.
Though so far the fire is entirely within Ventura County, the impacts are being felt closer to home.
“If I seem a little distracted, it’s because I have family evacuating to my house,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said during the meeting, adding he was trying to coordinate that evacuation.
Mona Miyasato, chief executive officer for Santa Barbara County, said county employees who live in the Ventura area were evacuated, and some lost their homes.
“Many of our colleagues are impacted,” she said.
But she said the county is looking into ways it can help, including setting up a fund among employees, allowing employees to donate vacation time, giving more leave time, extended counseling services and transportation service or subsidies for those who lost homes.
Miyasato noted the Aurora Vista del Mar Hospital, which provides acute psychiatric care, was totally destroyed, and seven of its 80 patients were from the County Behavioral Wellness Department.
Alice Gleghorn, director of the department, said patients were being housed at the Ventura fairgrounds put were being brought up to the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility, which can accommodate up to 10 additional patients.
Gleghorn said the state had already been notified of the emergency situation and the hospital might exceed its allowed capacity. Vendors also had been notified, and additional food and linens were being secured.
Peterson said a total of 21 fire engines have been sent from departments in this county — 14 of them from the County Fire Department alone — along with one of the county’s helicopters to help fight the fire. A total of 1,000 firefighters are on the lines with more on the way.
Fire hydrants in the Ventura foothills became inoperable last night when the flames knocked out electric service, cutting the power to the pumps normally used to fill the reservoir tanks atop the hills, he said. Flames also damaged cell towers, leaving cellular service spotty throughout the area.
The power outage extended all the way into Santa Barbara for Southern California Edison Co. customers, and although power was restored, intermittent power losses prompted the county to leave facilities that included the main jail on generator power.
The Air Pollution Control District also issued a warning about unhealthy air from smoke being blown into the South Coast area.