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Thomas Fire: Thousands remain evacuated, hope to return this week

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The Thomas Fire has now burned for two weeks. With just one week until Christmas, some residents who are under mandatory evacuation are eager to return home.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said in a press conference Monday a lot of people were able to go home in Santa Barbara County Monday. However, not everyone is out of the woods yet.

Dale Murnane, a Montecito resident, was evacuated Saturday night during the strong wind event. She doesn't know the status of her home, but she's understanding of the work that needs to be done before homeowners can safely return.

"I think that's the least we can do, give them a few more days, even though I'm like, 'Can we go back yet? Like, can we go back yet? Can we go back yet?'" Murnane said.

That same thought is racing through thousands of minds. Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Lieutenant Brian Olmstead says, as of Monday afternoon, around 18,000 people are impacted by the mandatory evacuations throughout the county. Around 10,000 remain in the warning zones.

He says the numerical data that determines the number of residents and parcels of land in the county is collected through a population census.

The process of evacuating locals was safe and efficient over the past week. As for the process of getting everyone out safely, it's a team effort between law enforcement and fire agencies and the county office of emergency management. 

The information relayed to the sheriff's office on the need for evacuations comes from the Incident Command Post, which is currently staged at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

"They evaluate things based on the weather conditions, what the fire's done," Olmstead said.

For some, it may seem like it's safe to go back because the flames or smoke aren't as visible. However, the point of keeping people out a little longer is to ensure safety.

"There are so much fire resources protecting the residences that they want to make it safe for the fire departments and fire vehicles and all the other fire resources that are up there," Olmstead said.  

Those crews working to put out hot spots and mop up damage to property and structures.

"We feel very positive that we will have everyone back home by the end of the week," CAL FIRE Assistant Chief Jeff Pemberton said during an afternoon news conference.

Despite being displaced, Murnane is looking at the bright side but acknowledging the small things that are often taken for granted.

"It's all been very humbling," she said. "All the moments that we get through the day that we can't get right now."

For a list of evacuation zones in Santa Barbara County, click here.

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