On Monday night, I went to sleep at my place up in the hills just north of Malibu. The Santa Anas were howling much stronger than usual, and I was a little worried a couple of trees might blow down. The lack of rain in the area has made everything weaker. Fires, of course, are always on anyone’s mind who lives in the area, but I didn’t expect to wake up on Tuesday morning to a firestorm just a few miles north, and I certainly didn’t expect that multiple conflagrations would pop up all around LA in the following hours, either.
Between 6:30 p.m. on Monday and 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Ventura’s Thomas fire went nuclear, growing from a single spark to some 50,000 acres. Now, a few days later, it’s nearly 70,000. We got on the phone with Tim Curran this morning. Curran, who lives in the area, is right in the thick of things, and it’s not a good place to be. “I’ve had multiple friends and people we know have their houses burned down,” he said. “Their whole street and the houses are gone. Downtown Ventura is without power.”
Three other fires have popped up in Los Angeles County. The Skirball Fire closed the 405 for hours, causing a traffic disaster that was massive even by LA standards. Schools are shutting their doors. Thousands have been evacuated, and it’s not even close to over. As of Wednesday afternoon, most of the fires are zero percent contained, and the weather forecast is dire: strong winds with gusts up to 60 mph are expected in the area and the steep, tinder-dry hills are the perfect place for wildfires to rapidly gain steam. “Everyone should be praying and hopeful for Carpinteria,” Curran, his voice laced with worry. “With this blow, it will be bad for Ojai too.”
This morning, Curran was driving north. The scene must have been apocalyptic–ash and smoke filling the air, fire crews tearing by, helicopters and tankers flying overhead. “I was driving to Santa Barbara this morning for a project we were working on up there, and it was burning all the way to the freeway at Mondos,” Curran recalled. “I’m driving right now, and everyone has masks on.”
On Tuesday, he was part of the mandatory evacuations that forced nearly 30,000 people from the Ventura area out of their homes. The Thomas fire has burned somewhere around 200 structures as of Wednesday afternoon, including an 82-person mental health facility. “We got evacuated yesterday, and then we are going to see how it goes,” he said. “It came probably within 500 yards of our house in Loma Vista. It was close. Within half a mile.”
While authorities are hopeful for a window of opportunity to get the blazes partially under control, as with most large fires, it’s a waiting game. Nature is in charge, and when a fire gets big enough, there’s nothing that can stop it except for a reprieve in weather conditions. “It is what it is. It’s crazy,” Curran summed up. “And it’s not over yet.”