Downtown Santa Barbara, normally a vibrant holiday destination, is virtually empty as residents have evacuated the area ahead of the advancing Thomas fire, which continues to spread west, though firefighters are making progress.
“[R]esidents piled into cars and fled on Saturday, turning downtown Santa Barbara into what one resident called ‘a ghost town’,” SFGate.com reported early Sunday. Some parts of the city were under mandatory evacuation orders, and the zoo prepared to evacuate animals if necessary.
The Thomas fire is now the third-largest in the history of California, exceeding 267,000 acres, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Firefighters have been battling in the hills and mountainsides above Santa Barbara and the coastal enclaves of Montecito and Carpenteria, where many celebrities own property. Many Montecito residents evacuated on Saturday, though photographs have circulated on the Internet of surfers still taking to the waves wearing protective masks.
Strong winds have accelerated the blaze’s advance, and firefighters warn that they will not be able to prevent the westward spread of the fire if strong winds push the flames down the coastal slopes. They have attempted to create containment lines and burn some of the brush in advance, to deny the blaze further fuel, but warn that the cities’ fate could be in Mother Nature’s hands.
One firefighter, Cory Iverson, died last week while fighting the blaze, leaving behind a two-year-old daughter and a 32-year old wife who is pregnant with the couple’s second daughter. The cause of his death was released Saturday, after having been determined to be “thermal injuries and smoke inhalation,” according to San Diego ABC affiliate KGTV.
Despite the difficult terrain and the high winds, Santa Barbara County Fire Division Chief Martin Johnson said Saturday that he is confident that firefighting efforts would prevail.
“Earlier this week I referred to this fire as a beast — and it’s a monster. We all recognize that,” he said, according to the Times. “But we will kill it. The team behind me, the men and women on the field, I have no doubt. They will take care of business and we will put this fire out.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.