Skirball Fire: Officials Determine Cause Of Bel-Air Blaze; Thomas Fire Still Unchecked; Apple Donates $1M – Update

By Bruce Haring, Erik Pedersen

Thomas Fire

3RD UPDATE, 12:39 PM: The Los Angeles Fire Department said this morning that the Skirball Fire that destroyed homes in Bel-Air last week was caused by an illegal cooking fire. “LAFD investigators have determined the fire was caused by an illegal cooking fire at an encampment in a brush area adjacent to where Sepulveda Boulevard crosses under the San Diego (405) Freeway,” officials said. “At the time of the LAFD’s arrival there were no individuals present at the area of origin and there have been no arrests made in connection to this fire.”

The Skirball Fire burned more than 400 acres, destroyed six homes and damaged 12 others.

Meanwhile, Apple has pledged $1M for Southern California wildfire relief as the Thomas Fire continues to burn in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and others scorch parts of Los Angeles and San Diego counties. The company also had pledged $1M in relief for the devastating fires in Northern California two months ago.

The Thomas Fire continues to be the most dangerous of the four still burning in Southern California. It has spread to 234,200 acres as of this morning and is 20% contained, according to Cal Fire, which noted that “severe fire weather will continue to promote significant growth further into Santa Barbara County, threatening the communities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Montecito and Summerland.” Nearly 50 more homes were destroyed by the Thomas Fire since Monday morning.

Here is the latest map of evacuations as of 7 AM. The redlined area is the fire perimeter, and the blue lines represent evacuation areas:

As of 6 AM, the Creek Fire near Sylmar was 98% contained, per Cal Fire, and the Skirball Fire that hit Bel-Air and environs was at 85% containment. The Lilac Fire in eastern San Diego County is 92% contained.

2ND UPDATE, December 11: The mandatory evacuation area for people in the path of the Thomas Fire north of Los Angeles continues to expand as the wildfire spreads into Santa Barbara County The fire is threatening Montecito, the tony enclave of Montecito, where many celebrities have homes; the city of Carpenteria; the beach town of Summerland; and surrounding areas. See evacuation details as of 7 AM PT and a map below.

The massive fire grew by more than 50,000 acres Sunday to become the fifth-largest in California history, and extreme fire behavior will continue to hamper control efforts. About 6,400 fire personnel are battling the fire, which has blackened more than 230,500 acres and is just 15% contained, with no full containment date yet projected. At least 644 houses have been destroyed and 167 damaged, with an additional 18,000 structures threatened. Rather miraculously, no one has been injured — a testiment to the orderly evacuations that have take place since the Thomas Fire erupted a week ago.

Gusty Santa Ana winds will continue to push fire to the west, Cal Fire said today, while very low fuel moistures, high temperatures and single-digit relative humidities will support fire growth on the west and north sides.

Officials said today that the evacuation order in the City of Ventura ranges north of Foothill Road from Kimball Road and west to Poli Street; north of Poli Street from Hall Canyon and west to Cedar Street; the entire community of Casitas Springs; north of Highway 150 heading to Highway 33; and south of Los Padres National Forest. In Ojai and and the east Ojai Valley, the order stretches from SR 150 east of Dennison Park to Koenigstein Road, south of Reeves Road Ojai. Here’s the latest map of the evacuation area from Cal Fire:

Cal Fire

UPDATED, 5:44 PM PST Dec. 10: As the Thomas Fire spreads in Carpinteria and Montecito, the city of Santa Barbara has ordered an evacuation in the area from Mission Canyon Rd. to Hot Springs Rd. and SR 192 to East Camino Cielo.

There has been an evacuation warning for the area from SR 192 at SR 154, North on SR 154 to E. Camino Cielo, East to Mission Canyon Rd. and SR 192 North to E. Camino Cielo.

The mandatory evacuation of City of Ventura’s City Hall at 501 and 505 Poli St. and the streets located directly around City Hall including Poli Alley Way and Poli St. has lifted. Also lifted is the mandatory evacuation for the Poinsettia Pavilion at 3451 Foothill Rd.

Firefighters have been fending off the blaze, which has engulfed nearly 200,000 acres today alone and has grown 25,000 acres during the day.

Santa Barbara County has posted a detailed map of mandatory evacuations zones on their Twitter account (seen below).

Earlier today, Rob Lowe tweeted, “Praying for my town” as he evacuated as the fires closed in. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, also tweeted earlier that her house was in danger, has been posting updates on her Twitter account. Most recently, she expressed her gratitude for the community and the firefighters.

“Everyone in the Montecito area is checking up on each other and helping to get people and animals to safety,” said DeGeneres. “I’m proud to be a part of this community. I’m sending lots of love and gratitude to the fire department and sheriffs. Thank you all. #ThomasFire”

EARLIER: The celebrity haven beach town of Carpinteria, CA and nearby Montecito are under seige by the renewed vigor of the Thomas Fire, one of six blazes burning in Southern California.

At mid-day, the 170,000-acre Thomas Fire caused evacuation orders for portions of Carpinteria and Montecito, with others nearby cautioned to be prepared to leave if things escalate. Montecito is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Drew Barrymore, Jeff Bridges, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Lowe, Malcolm McDowell, Al Gore, Megyn Price, Eric Schmidt, Jane Seymor and Patrick Stewart. Carpinteria notes such residents as Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, and directors George Lucas and Joel Schumacher.

The area’s low humidity backed by gusting Santa Ana winds pushed the fire overnight from Ventura County into Santa Barbara County. The winds have escalated fires throughout the state, gusting up to 35 mph, according to fire officials.

Carpinteria is in the most danger. The current fire is burning in very dry vegetation, according to Steve Swindle, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department. The area is estimated not to have burned in nearly 100 years.

Teams of firefighters are being deployed throughout Carpinteria to head off any flames that cross existing fire lines. Some 85,000 customers in the area are currently without power.

The Thomas Fire is currently the most problematic of the six wildfires burning in Southern California. Officials reported progress on containing the others.  The Thomas Fire is about 15 percent contained as of mid-day Sunday.

In Los Angeles County, firefighters continued to battle fires in Sylmar, Santa Clarita and Bel-Air. The Skirball fire near celebrity haven Bel-Air was 75% contained.

Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.

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