Oprah Winfrey has said that winds are creating a ‘perfect storm of bad’ as massive wildfires bear down on her celebrity enclave in California.
Santa Barbara County issued new evacuation orders on Saturday for Oprah’s home in Montecito and other communities in the area, as winds pushed the fire close to the wealthy enclave.
The Thomas Fire, now the third largest in California history, has now burned more than 400 square miles and is just 40 per cent contained.
According to USA Today, the fire was so strong Saturday that firefighters had to stand down from the front lines.
Public information officer Joe Rosa said: ‘The smoke is so thick in places, and the winds so strong and the fire’s behavior so erratic, it’s just not safe for us to have crews staying in the fire area.’
The mandatory evacuation zone is now 17 miles long and up to five miles wide, extending from coastal mountains northwest of Los Angeles to the ocean.
Winds in the foothill area are hitting around 30 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph.
‘Still praying for our little town. Winds picked up this morning creating a perfect storm of bad for firefighters,’ Oprah said on Twitter.
Actor Rob Lowe, who also lives in the area posted an Instagram photo of his house on Saturday morning with a fierce inferno whipping the hills behind it. ‘Pray for Santa Barbara,’ he wrote.
Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and one of the thousands of firefighters on the lines was killed Thursday. He was the second fatality in the Thomas blaze.
A Hot Shot crew cuts a line among homes at the Thomas Fire on on Saturday in Montecito, California. The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings of dangerous fire weather in Southern California for the duration of the weekend
Fire passes between homes at the Thomas Fire on Saturday in Montecito, which has been ordered completely evacuated
Actor Rob Lowe, who lives in the area, posted an Instagram photo of the flames behind his house on Saturday morning
Oprah (left) lives in Montecito, which is under mandatory evacuation. Her home is seen right in a file photo
An Engine Company from Portland, Oregon provides structure protection to a home on San Ysidro Road during continued efforts to fight the Thomas Fire in Montecito on Saturday
The current evacuation map as of noon Saturday is seen. Thousands have fled as Montecito came under mandator evacuation and voluntary evacuation zones were extended into downtown Santa Barbara
The Thomas Fire, now the third largest in California history, has now burned more than 400 square miles (Saturday map)
Actor Rob Lowe, who also lives in the area posted an Instagram photo of his house on Saturday morning with a fierce inferno whipping the hills behind it. ‘Pray for Santa Barbara,’ he wrote
The inferno began December 4 in Ventura County and spread into Santa Barbara County, destroying more than 970 homes and other structures.
The new voluntary evacuation zone affects as many as 33,000 people and extends into downtown Santa Barbara, and now includes the Santa Barbara Zoo.
‘Some animals are going into crates and being staged for possible evacuation to predetermined locations. Staff has training and transportation. We DO NOT need public assistance. Do not come to the Zoo. Stay safe,’ the zoo said in a statement on Saturday morning.
The northbound lanes of US Highway 101, coming up the coast from Los Angeles, were closed for a few hours south of Santa Barbara, with cars stopped on the freeway.
Firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, was the second person to died in the fire. He died Thursday but authorities have not yet released the circumstances of his death.
Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, was evacuating earlier this month when he died in a car crash.
An army of 8,300 firefighters, 400 fire trucks, 29 helicopters and 77 bulldozers are fighting the blaze.
Along with Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe, celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Barrymore, Jeff Bridges, Jane Seymor and Patrick Stewart own or have owned properties in the area.
‘It is right above the homes,’ fire spokesman Jude Olivas said.
Fires burn towards Cold Springs Trail as down canyon winds increase near Montecito, California on Saturday
Fire engines provide structure protection at the historic San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito on Saturday
Fire trucks are seen staged near the intersection of Ashley Road and East Mountain Drive near Montecito on Saturday
Fire trucks are staged near the intersection of Ashley Road and East Mountain Drive near Montecito on Saturday
In a pattern repeated throughout the neighborhood, homes that remained unscathed stand next to homes that were destroyed during the Thomas fire in the Arroyo Verde Park section of Ventura, California on December 8The 404-square-mile Thomas Fire was moving rapidly westward and crested Montecito Peak, just north of Montecito.
Pierre Henry, owner of the Bree’osh Bakery in Montecito, said he got a text to evacuate Saturday morning as the fire approached homes. He estimated the fire was about a mile away.
‘The worst was the smoke,’ Henry said. ‘You couldn’t breathe at all and it became worse when the wind started. All the ashes and the dust on the street were in the air. It was very, very frightening.’
The city, according to Henry, became an eerie scene devoid of people except for firefighters and as many as 50 firefighter trucks.
‘We left everything,’ Henry said. ‘There is nobody in Montecito. Just firefighters.’
A helicopter drops fire retardant onto a hillside on Friday in San Ysidro Canyon in Montecito
A fire approaches at Grand in the city of Fillmore on Friday. Unpredictable Santa Ana winds has pushed the fire closer to the town of Fillmore as firefighters continue to battle the fire
Thomas wildfire burns above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in this social media photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department in Montecito, California, U.S. December 12There was a spot of good news down the coast. Emergency officials announced that the same fire that was burning about 25 miles southeast of Montecito was 40 percent contained. Evacuation orders for the city of Ventura were lifted.
As the northerly ‘sundowner’ wind was driving the fire south and west, firefighters were left to hope for them to calm back down.
‘When the sundowners surface in that area and the fire starts running down slopes, you are not going to stop it,’ Mark Brown, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told a news conference. ‘And we are not going to stand in front of it and put firefighters in untenable situations.’
The cause remains under investigation. So far, firefighting costs have surpassed $100 million.
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Source: Daily Mail