VENTURA, Calif. (CN) – A wildfire that began burning in Southern California’s Ventura County last week is now the fifth largest wildfire in California history, having consumed more than 234,000 acres. And with dry conditions and high winds forecast throughout Southern California on Tuesday, the Thomas Fire now threatens the city of Santa Barbara and nearby communities.
Cal Fire said the Thomas Fire has so far destroyed 691 homes and damaged 158 others, with about 18,000 structures threatened. Over 6,900 personnel are working to contain the fire that was first reported a week ago near the city of Santa Paula in Ventura County. The fire is 20 percent contained, and the cause remains under investigation.
High winds that have buffeted the region for more than a week continue to fan the Thomas Fire, which has pushed closer to the communities of Carpinteria, Montecito, Santa Barbara and Summerland. Dry brush across the area have created unstable fire conditions.
“That just adds to the volatility,” said Steve Swindle with the Ventura County Fire Department. “The air is dry as well: You could say it’s explosive.”
Mandatory evacuations orders remain in place for residents in several communities across Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Firefighters are keeping an eye on several cellular and microwave towers in Santa Barbara County, which could affect cellphone service and subsequently public safety if they are damaged.
Meanwhile, several other fires in Los Angeles and San Diego counties are near total containment. The Creek Fire in Sylmar has burned 15,619 acres and is 98 percent contained, according to the National Forest Service. That fire destroyed 60 homes.
The Lilac Fire north of the city of San Diego has burned 4,100 acres and is 92 percent contained as of Tuesday morning. The wildfire destroyed 151 structures and damaged 56 others.
Officials determined an illegal cooking fire was responsible for the Skirball Fire, which destroyed six homes and damaged 12 more in the tony LA County enclave of Bel-Air.
Back in Santa Barbara, poor air quality has led to the closure of several schools this week. The Boys and Girls Club of Santa Barbara will provide food and snacks to students, and people with respiratory, heart disease, the elderly and children are advised to remain indoors throughout the area according to the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District.
Swindle said there will be a large push from firefighters on the northwestern edge of the fire on Tuesday. The region saw its last major wildfire in 2007, when the Zaca Fire burned 240,207 acres in Santa Barbara County.
The Southern California wildfires, burning during what should be the state’s rainy season, punctuate the most destructive year for wildfires in state history.