Firefighters Slowly Begin Turning Tide in Unprecedented California Wildfires

Firefighters hoped to make more progress Saturday against the wildfires burning from Ojai to Oceanside that have destroyed more than 1,000 structures and forced some 90,000 people to flee from their homes.

As Santa Ana winds finally died down Friday, crews were able to begin containment of some of the biggest fires. But red flag fire warnings remain in effect, and forecasters say the Santa Anas will return to Southern California on Saturday evening.

Also Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown surveyed the devastation in Ventura, the area hardest hit by this week’s firestorms. Brown’s visit comes four days after he declared a state of emergency.

In all, there are six wildfires burning in Southern California. About 8,500 firefighters are battling the fires, which have collectively burned 175,000 acres.

“We’re facing a new reality in this state, where fires threatened people’s lives, their properties, their neighborhoods and billions and billions of dollars. So we have to have the resources to combat the fires,” Brown told reporters at a news conference at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

The governor thanked firefighters for their efforts and expressed sympathy for residents who had lost their homes and animals, calling it a “horror” and “terrible tragedy for so many people.”

Brown added that climate change may exacerbate the weather conditions that caused the wildfires to explode.

“This is the new normal, and this could be something that happens every year or every few years,” he said. “We’re about to have a firefighting Christmas.”

Firefighters had a successful day battling flames on the southern edge of the Thomas fire, working toward the coast as well as parts of Ojai thanks to favorable wind patterns, a weakening of the winds and fire crews improving fire lines they had established, according to Bill Murphy, a spokesman for Cal Fire.

By Saturday morning, the Thomas fire had burned 148,000 acres. Firefighting efforts were hampered overnight by wind and topography, fire officials said, but the blaze was 15% contained. As a result, Murphy said, evacuations for most of the city of Ventura and Santa Paula were lifted.

Firefighters continued to encounter difficulty on the east side of the fire above Fillmore. Crews used helicopters to drop water on that portion to try to contain the fire. Firefighters also made progress on Highway 33 and the 101 Freeway on the west side of the blaze.

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SOURCE: Melissa Etehad and Ruben Vives
Los Angeles Times