SoCal Wildfires: The Latest And What's Next
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we'd like to hear a bit more about the Thomas fire, the biggest fire in the region right now. Thomas has been burning since Monday across Ventura County, north of Los Angeles. Reporter Stephanie O'Neill lives in the city of Ojai and has been witnessing the destruction firsthand. Stephanie, thanks so much for speaking with us.
STEPHANIE O'NEILL: You're welcome.
MARTIN: So can you tell us what's been happening where you are today?
O'NEILL: Well, the fire is still burning strong although it's not right above the town like we've seen earlier in the week. And the winds have calmed quite a bit. But today, the area around Ojai is the western advance of the Thomas fire. And today, I was on the southwest corner of it, and it really was flaring up quite a bit.
I spent the morning near Lake Casitas, about 5 miles west of Ojai. And I was in this narrow canyon that's literally canopied with these gorgeous oak trees and tall sycamore trees. And thankfully, the winds weren't crazy because the whole thing could have gone up really fast. But the flames were just leaping above the hills. And the concern was that it would destroy some ranches and really beautiful estates that are tucked away in this canyon where I was hanging out.
MARTIN: We had been hearing that over the course of the week that the wind has made fighting these fires very difficult, and I hear you telling me that that has changed a bit.
O'NEILL: It's changed a bit. We had some helicopter support a couple of nights ago, but that's really something that's strangely missing. Or it feels strange to not hear helicopters flying over and see these planes dropping, you know, fire retardant around. Because this fire is so different, it has these strong Santa Ana winds fueling it. Sometimes it has these offshore winds coming on the other side. And this fire has been very erratic because of those very erratic winds.
And today, even though we saw these leaping flames cresting the hills and then they would kind of die down, they got a little bit of oxygen in them and they kind of create their own little firestorm, so they get wild at first then die down. But they were able to bring in these helicopters today. These are known as long-line helicopters. They carry these buckets attached to cables that are at least 150 feet long. They dip them into the water wherever they can find it. And in this case, it was this little tiny backyard reservoir.
And the helicopters would drop these 600-gallon buckets into it, these bright-orange buckets and pick them up and then drop it on the fire. And they did a great job because they knocked out most of what was threatening these homes, although they're still doing mop-up. And they said, you know, if winds kick up again, the fire could start again because there's plenty of fuel out there.
MARTIN: Stephanie, before we let you go, we know we can't predict an end to the Thomas fire or any of the others. But can you tell us a little bit about what the immediate next steps might be in trying to contain all this?
O'NEILL: Well, I talked to Battalion Chief Fred Bruce (ph), who has been in charge of this area. And he tells me, you know, as it moves west and away from us, the concern now grows for those who are in Santa Barbara County. The fire has already burned into Santa Barbara County, and a fork of it is kind of up in the mountains above the town of Carpinteria. And then there's the towns of Montecito and the city of Santa Barbara. So those areas are next. And right now, the fire officials are in massive tactical planning, you know, for this so that they can try to fight that fire and keep it from coming down into the homes in those areas.
MARTIN: That's reporter Stephanie O'Neill talking to us from Ojai, Calif. - that's north of Los Angeles - with an update on the devastating fire that's burning there right now. Stephanie, thanks so much for speaking with us.
O'NEILL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.