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Containment hopes elusive for Thomas Fire as winds strengthen – USA TODAY

Containment hopes elusive for Thomas Fire as winds strengthen – USA TODAY

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Dramatic cell phone video along a busy Los Angeles freeway shows flames from a raging wildfire burning along hillsides early Wednesday. Officials say hundreds of structures may have been lost in wildfires burning across Southern California. (Dec. 6) AP

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VENTURA, Calif. — The unpredictable fire that has devastated Ventura and led to evacuation of tens of thousands across the county grew even more erratic Wednesday as it jumped the freeway and headed straight to the ocean.

Growing to 90,000 acres, or 140.6 square miles, by Wednesday evening, the Thomas Fire caused more mandatory evacuations in neighborhoods from Santa Paula to La Conchita, as well as in Santa Barbara, where officials issued a mandatory evacuation for approximately 300 residents. Late Tuesday, the fast-burning blaze crossed Highway 101 at Solimar Beach, north of Ventura, and nearly doubled the number of residents under evacuation orders to 50,000.

Ventura County is northwest of Los Angeles.

“Every firefighting aircraft available in the country is being provided for California’s use as we speak,” said Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott.

More: Southern California wildfires: What we know now

The fire that started Monday evening in Santa Paula changed and grew by the hour under shifting wind conditions. Firefighters have been unable to get a true handle on the blaze, with containment at 5%.

“When we have opportunities, when the winds have died down, we do direct firefighting on the fire line and try to get some containment,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen.

But that will solely depend on Santa Ana winds, which authorities anticipate to be extremely strong Thursday and to continue to Saturday. Conditions also are expected to be bone-dry, with humidity in the single digits.

Pimlott said he fears winds could gain speeds up to 80 mph.

“There will be no ability to fight fires in this type of wind. This will be about evacuation and getting people out from in front of any fires that start in these types of conditions,” Pimlott said.

Wildfires destroy homes in Southern California

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The Thomas Fire burns near Highway 101 in Ventura,

The Thomas Fire burns near Highway 101 in Ventura, Calif.  Juan Carlo, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY Network
An evacuees from the Thomas Fire rests in the Ventura

An evacuees from the Thomas Fire rests in the Ventura County Fairgrounds evacuation center in Ventura, Calif.  Mike Nelson, EPA-EFE
The Thomas Fire burns near Highway 101 in Ventura,

The Thomas Fire burns near Highway 101 in Ventura, Calif.  Juan Carlo, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
A new wildfire broke out overnight in some of Los Angeles'

A new wildfire broke out overnight in some of Los Angeles’ most exclusive neighborhoods. As the fire climbs up the canyon wall, firefighters race to save the homes along the 1700 block of Linda Flora in the upscale Bel Air Estates area of Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2017.   Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY
LAFD Captain Scott Quinn coordinates the attack on

LAFD Captain Scott Quinn coordinates the attack on two fires of homes in the upscale Bel Air Estates area of Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2017.  Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY
Dense vegetation along the canyon walls fueled the

Dense vegetation along the canyon walls fueled the fires even with constant water drops from helicopters in Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2017.  Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY
Firefighters try to save a house in the 1700 block

Firefighters try to save a house in the 1700 block of Linda Flora in the upscale Bel Air Estates area of Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2017.  Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY
Firefighters work in the Bel Air Estates area of Los

Firefighters work in the Bel Air Estates area of Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2017.   Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY
A vintage Mercedes sits in ruins along with a burned

A vintage Mercedes sits in ruins along with a burned home in the Bel Air Estates area of Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2017.  Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY
Firefighters battle flames on Foothill Boulevard in

Firefighters battle flames on Foothill Boulevard in the Lake View Terrace area during the Creek Fire in Lake View Terrace, Calif. on Dec. 5, 2017.  Joe Lumaya, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
A horse rider heads back to his home as other owners

A horse rider heads back to his home as other owners start to evacuate their horses during the Creek Fire in Lake View Terrace, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017.  Joe Lumaya, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
Residents watch fire retardant dropped on an area of

Residents watch fire retardant dropped on an area of the Rye Canyon Fire, one of several fires burning in Southern California.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
As the sun sets, a resident watches the Rye Canyon

As the sun sets, a resident watches the Rye Canyon Fire in Stevenson Ranch, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017. The Rye Canyon Fire had burned over 5,000 acres by 4 p.m. The fire forced the evacuation of several schools in the area and the closure of several roads.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
Los Angeles County firefighters battle flames in Lake

Los Angeles County firefighters battle flames in Lake View Terrace, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017.  Joe Lumaya, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
Residents gather on Poe Parkway in Stevenson Ranch,

Residents gather on Poe Parkway in Stevenson Ranch, Calif., to watch the Rye Canyon Fire, one of several burning in Southern California.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
Michael and Vonea McQuillam stand beside their house

Michael and Vonea McQuillam stand beside their house that was burned to the ground during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017. Firefighters battled a wind-whipped brush fire in Southern California that has left at least one person dead, destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands to flee.  Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
A fireman walks past a totally engulfed burning home

A fireman walks past a totally engulfed burning home at the corner of North Fir and Buena Vista Street at 2:00 a.m. on Dec. 5, 2017.  Chuck Kirmanv, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
A man rides his bike past a home consumed by a wildfire

A man rides his bike past a home consumed by a wildfire on Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif.  Jae C. Hong, AP
James and Josie Ralstin carry belongings from their

James and Josie Ralstin carry belongings from their Ventura, Calif., home as flames from a wildfire consume another residence on Dec. 5, 2017. The couple evacuated early Tuesday morning as the fire approached, but returned to retrieve medications and other property.  Noah Berger, AP
The Thomas Fire burns in the hills above Santa Paula

The Thomas Fire burns in the hills above Santa Paula on Dec. 4, 2017, in Ventura, Calif.  Anthony Plascencia, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
Horses are evacuated from a ranch along Kagel Canyon

Horses are evacuated from a ranch along Kagel Canyon at the Creek fire on Dec. 5, 2017, in La Canada Flintridge, Calif. Raked by ferocious Santa Ana winds, explosive wildfires northwest of Los Angeles and in the city’s foothills burned a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures Tuesday and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.  David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News, via AP
Engineer Brock Harmon from the L.A. Fire Department

Engineer Brock Harmon from the L.A. Fire Department sprays water on a burning home at the corner of North Fir and Buena Vista Streets in Ventura on Dec. 5, 2017.  Chuck Kirmanv, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
Firefighters put out flames near a home along Kagel

Firefighters put out flames near a home along Kagel Canyon Road at the Creek fire on Dec. 5, 2017, in Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles .  David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News, via AP
Horses are evacuated during the Creek fire on Dec.

Horses are evacuated during the Creek fire on Dec. 5, 2017, in La Canada Flintridge, Calif.  David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News, via AP
A home totally engulfed in flames from the Thomas fire

A home totally engulfed in flames from the Thomas fire at the corner of North Fir and Buena Vista Street in Ventura, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017.  Chuck Kirmanv, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
Homeowner Alan Barnard walks past the remains of his

Homeowner Alan Barnard walks past the remains of his RV from a wildfire in the Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles on Dec. 5, 2017.  Chris Carlson, AP
As the Hawaiian Village apartments burn a man dodges

As the Hawaiian Village apartments burn a man dodges embers and has a hose ready to spray his rooftop on Polin Street in Ventura, Calif.  Chuck Kirmanv, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
Smoke from the Creek wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains,

Smoke from the Creek wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains, the second range behind the Hollywood Hills, home of the Hollywood sign, looms up over Los Angeles Tuesday morning on Dec. 5, 2017.  Reed Saxon, AP
Flames rise near a home as a wildfire burns in Ventura,

Flames rise near a home as a wildfire burns in Ventura, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017. Ferocious winds in Southern California have whipped up explosive wildfires, burning a psychiatric hospital and scores of other structures.  Jae C. Hong, AP
The Hawaiian Village apartments burn out of control

The Hawaiian Village apartments burn out of control from the Thomas fire in Ventura, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017.  Chuck Kirmanv, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
Greg Smith stands amid the ruins of his home after

Greg Smith stands amid the ruins of his home after the Thomas fire swept through Ventura, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017.  Daniel Dreifuss, AP
Smoke rises behind a leveled apartment complex as a

Smoke rises behind a leveled apartment complex as a wildfire burns in Ventura, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017. Over 100 structures have burned so far in Ventura County, officials said.  Noah Berger, AP
A firefighter checks damage to a home at Lake View

A firefighter checks damage to a home at Lake View Terrace area of Los Angeles on Dec. 5, 2017.   David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News, via AP
The Thomas Fire burns in the hills above Santa Paula

The Thomas Fire burns in the hills above Santa Paula on Dec. 4, 2017  Anthony Plascencia, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
The Thomas Fire burns in the hills near Steckel Park

The Thomas Fire burns in the hills near Steckel Park in Santa Paula on Dec. 4, 2017.  Anthony Plascencia, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
A fire near Santa Paula burns in the background on

A fire near Santa Paula burns in the background on Dec. 4, 2017, as public safety personnel gather at the command post.  Megan Diskin, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
A home in Ventura goes up in flames as the Thomas Fire

A home in Ventura goes up in flames as the Thomas Fire descends down from the hills.   Juan Carlo, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK
Flames totally engulf two homes at the corner of North

Flames totally engulf two homes at the corner of North Fir and Buena Vista streets at 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 5, 2017.  Chuck Kirmanv, Ventura County Star, via USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cal Fire chief said residents should have an evacuation plan because the situation can change in a matter of minutes.

Conditions Thursday “are going to be extreme,” he said.

These are likely the strongest Santa Ana winds since 2007 — when, at one point, there were 17 active fires in California, said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif.

“Back in 2007, we had four fires in effect at the same time in Ventura and Los Angeles counties,” Sweet said. “Our conditions now are comparable to what we saw then.”

More: Homes burn as wildfires rage in ritzy Los Angeles neighborhoods

The largest in a group of Southern California wildfires, the Thomas Fire closed nearly every school and college in Ventura County, with many campuses expecting closures through the end of the week.

Early Tuesday, the air quality was worst in the Ojai Valley, but shifting winds made breathing difficult in Ventura, Oxnard and many areas across the county.

Ventura County Air Pollution Control Officer Mike Villegas said categories for air quality include good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy for everyone and hazardous.

“It’s either going to be very unhealthy or hazardous,” he said of air in the Ojai area.

Masks help some.

More: Santa Ana winds expected to intensify in Thomas Fire area

“It’s better than nothing, but I hope people don’t get a false sense,” he said.

Michael Nix stood in the flatbed of his Dodge pickup off the Pacific Coast Highway taking pictures of streams of flames moving closer to Highway 101.

“I’m seeing a scary situation,” said Nix, who lives just outside of Ventura County in the Rincon area. He’s outside of the mandatory evacuation zone but is packed and ready to go.

He said the air, thick with smoke and ash, tasted like smoke. He wasn’t wearing a mask. Why?

“That’s a good question,” he said.

Living within the mandatory evacuation zone in La Conchita is community leader Mike Bell, who knew the flames were a mile away but wasn’t ready to go.

More: Massive smoke plumes from southern California fires can be seen from space

“We intend to stay here until we actually think there’s a threat to town,” Bell said.

Earlier Wednesday, Bell hosed down the property from his roof. He said his car was loaded and ready to go.

Firefighters got air assistance from eight aircraft from the U.S. Navy and California National Guard. Also deployed were two aircraft, known as the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, from the Channel Islands Air National Guard station.

Authorities have even reached across multiple state lines for help.

Teams from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington have either arrived or are on their way. The number of personnel fighting the blaze is nearly 2,000 and authorities expect that number to increase.

More: See incredible images from the wildfire raging near famed Getty Center in Los Angeles

“These assets coming from our surrounding, neighboring states, which we are deeply appreciative of, will be immediately applied to the firefight,” said Mark Gilharducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services.

Although firefighters have only reached a 5% containment of the blaze, they have done a good job protecting homes, Lorenzen said. Teams are assessing the number of burned structures, which is estimated at 150, but that number is expected to increase. There are still an estimated 12,000 structures threatened.

In Ventura, with so many residents evacuated, the city enacted a curfew, which began Tuesday night. The curfew remained in place Wednesday starting 10 p.m. and ending 5 a.m. the next day. According to the city of Ventura, the curfew will be in effect every night until the state of emergency is lifted.

More: New brush fire sets homes ablaze in Los Angeles’ toniest neighborhoods

During the curfew, nobody should be on public streets or in alleys, parks or other public places. According to city officials, the curfew is in place to prevent looting or other crimes in evacuation areas.

Power outages continued as officials tried to restore the transmission system affected by the fire. Approximately 8,400 customers were without power because of the Thomas Fire, and Southern California Edison officials did not know when service would be restored.

Paul Grigaux, of Edison, said the number of outages could fluctuate throughout the week as the fire continues to threaten transmission lines.

Contributing: Christian Martinez, Tom Kisken, Alexa D’Angelo, Cheri Carlson and Megan Diskin, Ventura County (Calif.) Star. Follow Wendy Leung on Twitter: @Leung__Wendy

More: Gov. Brown declares state of emergency as thousands flee California wildfire

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CALIF. WILDFIRES THREATEN L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS, SPARK EVACUATIONS Motorists witness wildfire near L.A. freeway | 1:06

Dramatic cell phone video along a busy Los Angeles freeway shows flames from a raging wildfire burning along hillsides early Wednesday. Officials say hundreds of structures may have been lost in wildfires burning across Southern California. (Dec. 6) AP

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Firefighters in southern California are working overtime to protect homes in Los Angeles. A new wildfire broke out in some of Los Angeles’ most exclusive neighborhoods, which includes the upscale Bel Air Estates. USA TODAY

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As drivers headed down the 405 freeway, they were met with giant flames from the several fires burning in Southern California. USA TODAY

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CALIF. WILDFIRES THREATEN L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS, SPARK EVACUATIONS People, animals flee California wildfire | 1:29

Nearly 200,000 people have been told to evacuate from three massive wildfires in southern California. Many people fleeing the flames are bringing along their animals. (Dec. 6) AP

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CALIF. WILDFIRES THREATEN L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS, SPARK EVACUATIONS Wildfires destroy homes across southern Calif. | 2:21

Wildfires driven by winds approaching hurricane force swept across Southern California Monday night into Tuesday, scorching thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of structures – from Ventura County to communities north of Los Angeles. (Dec. 5) AP

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CALIF. WILDFIRES THREATEN L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS, SPARK EVACUATIONS Officials urge southern Calif. residents to flee homes | 1:27

Authorities are urging tens of thousands of people to flee their homes as wind-driven wildfires scour communities northwest of Los Angeles. Two fires have burned about 30 homes and are being pushed by Santa Ana gusts. (Dec. 5) AP

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CALIF. WILDFIRES THREATEN L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS, SPARK EVACUATIONS At least 1 dead As fast-moving Brush fire scorches southern California | 0:37

According to the Ventura County Fire Department, the Thomas Fire was first reported Monday evening north of the city of Santa Paula. Video provided by Newsy Newslook

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CALIF. WILDFIRES THREATEN L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS, SPARK EVACUATIONS Wildfires destroy homes across Southern California | 2:21

Wildfires driven by winds approaching hurricane force swept across Southern California Monday night into Tuesday, scorching thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of structures – from Ventura County to communities north of Los Angeles. (Dec. 5) AP

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CALIF. WILDFIRES THREATEN L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS, SPARK EVACUATIONS Homes burn as fire breaks out in Los Angeles | 2:13

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in an exclusive ridge-top neighborhood in Los Angeles as a dangerous new wildfire burns in Southern California. At least two homes are burning in that area. (Dec. 6) AP

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CALIF. WILDFIRES THREATEN L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS, SPARK EVACUATIONS Southern Calif. fire grows to 70 square miles | 1:12

Authorities estimate a wind-driven Southern California wildfire has grown to more than 70 square miles. (Dec. 5) AP

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Whipping Santa Ana winds are playing a huge role in how quickly the Thomas Fire is spreading across Ventura County, California. Fire officials say it’s a “very bad scenario.” USA TODAY

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Wildfires in Southern California have triggered evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. The fires remain mostly out of control. (Dec. 6) AP

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Thousands of homes have been evacuated after a wind-whipped wildfire exploded overnight in Southern California. The fire has burned through at least 40 square miles northwest of Los Angeles. (Dec. 5) AP

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  • Motorists witness wildfire near L.A. freeway
    Motorists witness wildfire near L.A. freeway
  • Firefighters battle flames just feet from LA homes
    Firefighters battle flames just feet from LA homes
  • Wildfires turn California freeway into wall of flames
    Wildfires turn California freeway into wall of flames
  • People, animals flee California wildfire
    People, animals flee California wildfire
  • Wildfires destroy homes across southern Calif.
    Wildfires destroy homes across southern Calif.
  • Officials urge southern Calif. residents to flee homes
    Officials urge southern Calif. residents to flee homes
  • At least 1 dead As fast-moving Brush fire scorches southern California
    At least 1 dead As fast-moving Brush fire scorches southern California
  • Wildfires destroy homes across Southern California
    Wildfires destroy homes across Southern California
  • Homes burn as fire breaks out in Los Angeles
    Homes burn as fire breaks out in Los Angeles
  • Southern Calif. fire grows to 70 square miles
    Southern Calif. fire grows to 70 square miles
  • Ventura County wildfire spreading as fast as the wind
    Ventura County wildfire spreading as fast as the wind
  • Raw: Wildfires rage in Ventura County, Calif.
    Raw: Wildfires rage in Ventura County, Calif.
  • California fire forces thousands to evacuate
    California fire forces thousands to evacuate
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