California fires bear down on Oprah’s celebrity enclave
Celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe expressed fears for their homes as the Thomas Fire continued to rage on Saturday becoming the third largest blaze California has ever seen and covering 267,500 acres – an area larger than New York City.
Oprah took to Twitter to say that winds are creating a ‘perfect storm of bad’ as massive wildfires bear down on her celebrity enclave in California.
Santa Barbara County issued new evacuation orders on Saturday for Oprah’s home in Montecito and other communities in the area, as winds pushed the fire close to the wealthy enclave.
NBC reports the fire, now the third largest in California history, has now burned 267,500 acres and is just 40 per cent contained. That makes it larger than New York City, which covers 195,000 acres.
According to USA Today, the fire was so strong Saturday that firefighters had to stand down from the front lines.
Public information officer Joe Rosa said: ‘The smoke is so thick in places, and the winds so strong and the fire’s behavior so erratic, it’s just not safe for us to have crews staying in the fire area.’
The mandatory evacuation zone is now 17 miles long and up to five miles wide, extending from coastal mountains northwest of Los Angeles to the ocean.
Winds in the foothill area are hitting around 30 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph.
‘Still praying for our little town. Winds picked up this morning creating a perfect storm of bad for firefighters,’ Oprah said on Twitter.
Actor Rob Lowe, who also lives in the area posted an Instagram photo of his house on Saturday morning with a fierce inferno whipping the hills behind it. ‘Pray for Santa Barbara,’ he wrote. On December 10 he had tweeted that he was evacuating.
Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and one of the thousands of firefighters on the lines was killed Thursday. He was the second fatality in the Thomas blaze.
The inferno began December 4 in Ventura County and spread into Santa Barbara County, destroying more than 970 homes and other structures.
The new voluntary evacuation zone affects as many as 33,000 people and extends into downtown Santa Barbara, and now includes the Santa Barbara Zoo.
The zoo closed on Saturday and video showed the animals being put into crates to be evacuated.
‘Some animals are going into crates and being staged for possible evacuation to predetermined locations. Staff has training and transportation. We DO NOT need public assistance. Do not come to the zoo. Stay safe,’ the zoo said in a statement on Saturday morning.
The northbound lanes of US Highway 101, coming up the coast from Los Angeles, were closed for a few hours south of Santa Barbara, with cars stopped on the freeway.
Firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, was the second person to died in the fire on Thursday. Authorities have not yet released the circumstances of his death.
Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, was evacuating earlier this month when he died in a car crash.
An army of 8,300 firefighters, 400 fire trucks, 29
Along with Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe, celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Drew Barrymore, Jeff Bridges, Jane Seymor and Patrick Stewart own or have owned properties in the area.
‘It is right above the homes,’ fire spokesman Jude Olivas said.
Singer Katy Perry tweeted on Saturday that her family were evacuating from the blaze. ‘Woke up to wish my mom a happy 70th birthday today to find my brother evacuating them from the insane #Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara County that has kicked up once again… praying for the firefighters & first responders that are fighting it back as best they can. Love you SB,’ she wrote.
Maria Shriver shared a photo to Twitter of the blaze with the caption: ‘From my friends in Santa Barbara. Continued prayers are needed for those battling fires and those in harms way.’
The 404-square-mile Thomas Fire was moving rapidly westward and crested Montecito Peak, just north of Montecito.
Pierre Henry, owner of the Bree’osh Bakery in Montecito, said he got a text to evacuate Saturday morning as the fire approached homes. He estimated the fire was about a mile away.
‘The worst was the smoke,’ Henry said. ‘You couldn’t breathe at all and it became worse when the wind started. All the ashes and the dust on the street were in the air. It was very, very frightening.’
The city, according to Henry, became an eerie scene devoid of people except for firefighters and as many as 50 firefighter trucks.
‘We left everything,’ Henry said. ‘There is nobody in Montecito. Just firefighters.
There was a spot of good news down the coast. Emergency officials announced that the same fire that was burning about 25 miles southeast of Montecito was 40 percent contained. Evacuation orders for the city of Ventura were lifted.
As the northerly ‘sundowner’ wind was driving the fire south and west, firefighters were left to hope for them to calm back down.