Fires

First death confirmed as Thomas Fire grows to 143,000 acres

California wildfire forces beach community evacuations

Along the California coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara the state's biggest wildfire approached beach communities as flames leapt from steep hillsides across US Highway 101 on Thursday. The flames forced an evacuation of dozens of homes at Fa
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Along the California coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara the state's biggest wildfire approached beach communities as flames leapt from steep hillsides across US Highway 101 on Thursday. The flames forced an evacuation of dozens of homes at Fa

Update 6 p.m.

The Ventura County Medical Examiner confirmed the first wildfire-related death Friday, as the blaze continued to grow to 143,000 acres.

In a news release, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Young said Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula was killed in a car crash in Wheeler Canyon on Wednesday night. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma with terminal smoke inhalation and burns.

Wheeler Canyon was among the evacuation areas impacted by the fast-burning Thomas Fire this week.

Pesola’s death is the first related to the handful of major wildfires raging throughout Southern California.

Meanwhile, evacuations were lifted for much of the city of Ventura, with the the exception of the area north of West Main Street and east of Highway 33 (commonly known as Ventura Avenue) and all neighborhoods north of Poli Street and Foothill Road.

Containment of the fire stayed at 10 percent.

More than 500 structures have been damaged and more than 120,000 people have evacuated as fires burn in half a dozen counties in Southern California. President Donald Trump approved a California disaster declaration Friday, December 8, 2017, order

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Firefighters on Friday continued to try to wrest control of the Thomas Fire scorching Ventura County, which had burned 132,000 acres by Friday evening.

Crews contained more of the fire overnight — going from 5 percent Thursday night to 10 percent Friday morning — but the acreage claimed by the flames grew. The increase overnight was due to a more accurate assessment of the blaze, according to Ventura County Fire Department officials.

The fire — which started Monday night — had destroyed more than 400 structures and damaged at least 80, according to Cal Fire. More than 3,500 firefighting personnel are fighting the blaze.

The Federal Aviation Administration also put a temporary flight restriction in place above the Ventura County area due to the fire.

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The Ventura County Fire Department on Friday tweeted crews had made progress fighting the fire along Foothill Road near Santa Paula and Ventura.

Flames approached Santa Barbara County on Thursday night, prompting authorities to issue additional evacuation orders in Carpinteria, Summerland and some unincorporated areas.

Mandatory evacuation areas include the area north of Highway 192, from Highway 150 to the east, to Casitas Pass Road to the west and to East Camino Cielo on the north, according to county officials.

Voluntary evacuation warnings were expanded to include “the area bounded by Highway 192 on the north, Highway 101 on the south, Santa Monica Road on the east, and Ortega Ridge Road and its extension through East Valley Road and Ladera Road on the west up to East Camino Cielo,” according to the county.

Public agencies and Direct Relief have been handing out free face masks because of the smoke-clogged air on the South Coast of Santa Barbara County, which recorded “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” levels of particulates Thursday.

Click here to check daily air quality levels on the Air Pollution Control District site.

All southern Santa Barbara County schools canceled classes Thursday and Friday, including K-12 campuses, UC Santa Barbara, Westmont College and Santa Barbara City College.

The city of Santa Barbara canceled its Friday trash pickup for residential and commercial customers, expecting to push it to Saturday or later depending on air quality issues and worker safety concerns.

MarBorg Industries closed its recycling centers and the county closed its South Coast Recycling and Transfer Station, and limited access to Tajiguas Landfill.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, which should help bring more people and money into the firefight. Santa Barbara also got a fire management grant from FEMA, officials said Friday.

Noozhawk.com editor Tom Bolton contributed to this report.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden

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