More evacuees are expected to return home Tuesday while hundreds of fire crews will be released from the Thomas Fire, both in time for the holidays, according to CAL FIRE officials.
Amber Anderson, public information officer at the Thomas Fire, says there are two reasons why some fire crews are lucky enough to be heading home: agency contracts and the fire’s current condition.
First, firefighters, by contract, can only work a certain amount of days before they’re required to take a mandatory day off. That mandatory off-time usually happens at about 14 to 21 days, depending on the agencies.
Tuesday is day 16 of the Thomas Fire, so many of the firefighters who have been working since it began are headed home, and a new flock of firefighters who haven’t worked on this fire are reporting for duty.
#ThomasFire: Hundreds of fire crew get to go home today for the holidays. People expected to be allowed to return to their homes before the holidays as well, as long as Wednesday night’s winds hold. pic.twitter.com/wJkpsteEuV
— Fabiola Ramirez (@_FabRamirez) December 19, 2017
Firefighters who are staying through the holidays say they will celebrate Christmas on another day.
"It’s too bad that it’s going on during the holidays season but we all love our jobs and we are willing to do it at any time, we are going to celebrate, it’ll just be either a little early or a little late," said Rich Macklin, a Ventura County fire engineer.
Fire officials hope to release even more fire crews by the weekend.
"My family, my kids are very excited," Macklin said. "They want me home today if they could have it but we know that that’s not a possibility, but knowing that I’ll be able to return home by the end of the week — they are very excited and I can’t wait to see them."
The second reason is that the fire has been looking exceptionally better than previous days, so fire officials are sending home unused resources that were called in ahead of this week’s and last weekend’s weather events.
The Thomas Fire is 271,750 acres and is 50 percent contained.
— Fabiola Ramirez (@_FabRamirez) December 20, 2017
Although fire officials are happy to send crew members home to their families, Anderson says the most important thing is the public’s safety and well-being.
"From our side, we’re used to being gone," Anderson said. "This is our job, this is what we do, this is what we signed up for."
The biggest concern for fire crews right now is structure defense and structure preparation ahead of the weather changes coming Wednesday night, in order to let evacuees return home as soon as possible.
"We’re used to being away and it’s almost expected; what’s not expected is homeowners, residents, citizens being displaced from their homes during the holidays and that’s what’s important (lifting evacuations), that’s what we’re focusing on," Anderson told KSBY.
The Thomas Fire status is in the air, and can change unexpectedly, however, incident command is fairly confident they will be able to reduce a lot of the evacuation orders to warnings in order to get people home in time for the holidays.