Fire officials outline 'strategic plan' to contain Thomas Fire - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Fire officials outline 'strategic plan' to contain Thomas Fire

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UPDATE (3:45 a.m.) - Fire officials are outlining a strategic plan to contain the Thomas Fire and will decide today whether to conduct a major firing operation to protect homes in Santa Barbara. 

The strategic plan is a three-pronged approach. 

Plan A is to continue to fight the fire along its existing boundaries. 

"That is putting firefighters and retardant drops right on the fire's edge and hold it where it's at," said operations sections chief Mark Brown of CAL FIRE. "At this time we are having success." 

Plan B involves allowing the fire to progress slowing across the ridge, controlling the lower boundaries and working to tie new fire lines into those from previous burn areas.

Plan C is to conduct a major firing operation, what's also known as a "back burn."

"We're talking about a firing operation, in order for us to get control line in place under our conditions rather than waiting for a wind event to push this tremendous volume of fire on the hillside in an uncontrolled fashion," Brown said at a press conference Wednesday. 

"When wind starts pushing it, we can throw everything we have at it and it's not going to do any good."

Brown and his team want to avoid that situation and feel confident ground crews could successfully carry out a safe, effective firing operation.  

That being said, Plan C is a contingency plan developed by fire experts. 

Stay with KSBY News today for updates on whether fire officials decide to move forward with the Plan C firing operation. 

Beyond Plan C, fire managers also have a Plan E for emergency. 

The emergency plan is to position 400 fire engines for "point-to-point structure defense " at every home in the threatened area. This last resort plan would also including a firing operation along Highway 154 and through Windy Gap. 

Watch KSBY News Daybreak 5-7- a.m. for live, continuing coverage of the Thomas Fire. 

UPDATE (9:15 p.m.) - Evacuation orders have been lifted from the following areas:

- The mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders and warnings on Highway 33 from West Old Creek Road, south to Park View Drive, including areas of Casitas Springs and Foster Park have been lifted.

- The mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders and warnings from south of US-101 to the ocean, between the Santa Barbara/Ventura County line and SR-33.

- The mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders for the City of Ventura have been lifted with the exception of the areas north of Foothill Road between Cobblestone Drive and North Kimball Road.  Those areas remain under a mandatory evacuation order.

UPDATE (6:15 p.m.) - As of Wednesday evening, the Thomas Fire has burned 238,500 acres and is 30 percent contained.

Fire officials say 930 structures in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have been destroyed by the fire. 

They say the fire is gradually growing along the Santa Ynez Ridge, in the Matilija Wilderness, and in the Sespe Drainage. They say all of that movement is topography-driven, but strengthening winds are a concern over the next few days.

The estimated cost to fight the fire so far is $69 million.

UPDATE (4:55 p.m.) - At a community meeting in Santa Barbara on Wednesday, fire officials said they'd had another successful day so far fighting the Thomas Fire.

In the northwest area of the fire, officials say the flames have moved into the 10-year-old fuels of the Zaca Fire burn area, which has slowed the fire significantly. 

Officials expect more evacuation orders to be lifted in the coming days. Still, fire officials say nearly 226,000 residents are potentially at risk from the fire, as well as 62,000 structures, 900 communication towers, 4 electrical power plants, 23 electrical substations, and 301 miles of oil and gas lines.

They laid out their plans to get the fire under control in the coming days: 

UPDATE: (4:35 p.m.) - All evacuation warnings for the area from Highway 101 to the ocean from Santa Claus Lane at Padaro Road east to Rincon Beach Park have been lifted.

UPDATE (3:35 p.m.) - Highway 154 will be closed to all traffic from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. for the foreseeable future, according to the California Highway Patrol, to allow for fire personnel and equipment to utilize the highway.

CHP asks travelers to avoid Highway 154 during the rest of the day as well and use Highway 101 as a detour.

UPDATE (3:20 p.m.) - Fire activity has picked up in the hills above Highway 192 near the Bella Vista Drive neighborhood of Montecito. Fire crews are working to build a hand line in the area and helicopters are dropping fire retardant. KSBY News reporter Megan Abundis provided this live update on Facebook.

UPDATE (12:30 p.m.) - The mandatory evacuation order has been reduced to an evacuation warning for the Rincon area. This includes Rincon Beach Park, Rincon Point Road, Rincon Point Lane, Buena Fortuna Street and Puesta Del Sol.

UPDATE (11:30 a.m.) - The California Highway Patrol is asking drivers to avoid using Highway 154 because fire personnel and equipment are staged in the area as the fire continues heading west. 

The Thomas Fire grew to 237,500 acres overnight, with containment remaining at 25 percent, according to CAL FIRE.

Tuesday night, crews were working hard to protect lives and homes on the west end of the fire near Montecito and Carpinteria.

According to the Ventura County Fire Department, the fire is now moving toward the Santa Ynez mountain range, away from populated areas.

Since breaking out December 4, more than 900 structures have been destroyed by the fire with at least 700 of those being homes. Another nearly 200 structures have been damaged and tens of thousands of people remain evacuated. 

The cost to fight the fire has grown to more than $61 million. 

A week into the firefight, air quality in much of the county remains at unhealthy levels. More N95 masks will be distributed again at several locations Wednesday.

Another community meeting will also take place at San Marcos High School beginning at 4:00 p.m. Fire officials and others from various agencies will be on hand to give updates to the community and answer questions. The high school is located at 4750 Hollister Avenue in Santa Barbara. The afternoon briefings are expected to take place for the rest of the week. 

Many schools, including Lompoc Unified, will be closed for the remainder of the week, re-opening next year following the holiday break. 

The Thomas Fire has also impacted the Santa Barbara Zoo, which is not currently in an evacuation zone but has been closed to the public since Sunday. 

Tuesday, a new firefighter camp was established at Lake Cachuma for about 1,500 of the nearly 8,000 firefighters currently battling the blaze. 

The cause of the fifth largest wildfire in California state history remains under investigation. 

Stay with KSBY and KSBY.com for continuous updates on the Thomas Fire throughout the day.