Some evacuation orders lifted in Ventura County firestorm

VENTURA, Calif. -- In its fifth day, the battle against the 206-square-mile Thomas Fire – which forced the evacuation of more than 87,000 people in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties – was aided by more moderate weather Friday, authorities said.

The blaze first broke out late Monday in the Santa Paula area before being swept by Santa Ana winds toward the city of Ventura, and later, north toward Santa Barbara County and the coastline as well as toward the Fillmore area.

More coverage of the Thomas Fire from KTLA

On Friday, winds were milder and allowed more helicopters and air tankers to drop water and fire retardant, according to am afternoon news release from Cal Fire.

Some evacuation orders were lifted Friday. Fire officials announced the following, effective as of 4 p.m.:

  • City of Ventura:All mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders have been lifted in the city of Ventura with the exception of the area north of West Main Street and east of State Route 33, commonly known as Ventura Avenue, and all neighborhoods North of Poli and Foothill Road
  • City of Santa Paula:All mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted in the city of Santa Paula for the areas North of State Route 126 from the west end of the city east to Willard Road and north to Bridge Road.
  • Unincorporated Areas between Ventura and Santa Paula:All mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted north of Foothill Road.

Firefighting efforts had been complicated by changing wind directions, and the 132,000-acre wildfire was still just 10 percent contained on Friday morning.

The fire is threatening 15,000 structures and has already destroyed 400 and damaged 81, officials said Friday morning. The night before, fire officials said the blaze had destroyed nearly 440 structures, with over 400 in just Ventura alone.

It is still unclear how many of these buildings are homes.

However, the number of damaged or destroyed structures could grow, as fire and rescue crews are still assessing the damage.

More than 87,000 people were under an evacuation order, the Ventura County Fire Department said Friday afternoon.

After experiencing wildfires before, one homeowner who lost her Ventura County home told KTLA she didn't expect to Thomas Fire to leave behind so little.

"When we left, we've been through so many fires before, that [I thought] there be some stuff left. But no, there's nothing," she said, looking over the piles of debris and rubble where her home once was. "And now I'm kicking myself for all the stuff I didn't think to pack. But it happened so quickly."

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown warned residents living in that area to be "ready to go at a moment's notice" Thursday evening.

The fire — for which Gov. Jerry Brown has declared states of emergencies in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties — is burning on the north and east sides of the 150 Freeway as well as on the west side of the 33 Freeway, officials said.

President Donald Trump has declared an emergency in the state and has ordered federal assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for fire relief efforts, the White House announced Friday.

The Thomas Fire made its way to the 101 Freeway just along the coastline near the Ventura-Santa Barbara county line, where thick blankets of smoke and the orange glow of the blaze has made for an eerie scene over shoreline.

Just over 3,500 firefighters are battling the blaze, along with 21 helicopters and 544 engines, officials said.