Monday, October 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 28th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 43 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 43

Thomas Fire close to containment as locals organize support


Since its start on the evening of Dec. 4, the Thomas Fire has caused irreparable damages—it's killed a firefighter, destroyed 1,063 structures, and damaged another 267. It's burned 272,800 acres so far in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and cost more than $160 million to suppress as of the Sun's press time. 

But after weeks of fighting, with the use of more than 5,600 personnel and hundreds of fire engines, all mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders in Santa Barbara County were lifted on Dec. 21. Residents were advised to reunite with their pets and return to their homes at 9 a.m. that day. Only one voluntary order remained in Ventura County. 

Despite the happy news for many residents, the battle is not over. Major portions of the fire were still burning as of the Sun's press time on Dec. 22, when a Santa Barbara County Fire Department fire update reported the fire to be at 65 percent containment. 

Roughly 18,000 structures were still being threatened by the blaze, as were numerous wildlife habitats in the area. 

Several rare species—including the arroyo toad, California condor, California red-legged frog, and the southwestern willow flycatcher—are known to live in the reaches of the Thomas Fire, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Ventura office. 

"Unfortunately, some wildlife will not be able to find refuge from the fire and will be injured or killed," a CDFW press release stated. "But many will escape and find unburned areas for shelter and food, while others may withstand the fire underground." 

Arroyo toads, according to the release, bury themselves underground for hibernation during winter months and may survive the fire in place. California red-legged frogs don't hibernate, and may have to seek haven in small-mammal burrows or pond bottoms.

Many southwestern willow flycatchers are currently in their wintering grounds of Central and South America, but may have to find new habitat when they return in the spring, and adult California condors can simply fly away from fires, according to the CDFW. Still, it's too early to tell what the lasting impacts on wildlife in the area may be. 

With hopes of helping out people affected or displaced by the Thomas Fire, Santa Maria High School hosted two fundraiser basketball games on Dec. 19 and 21 against Channel Islands and Foothill Technology high schools, just two of many high school basketball teams in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties that were forced to drop out of several games while the fire burned. 

Santa Maria High School varsity boys' basketball coach Dave Yamate said this time of year is normally packed with basketball games and tournaments, but evacuations and poor air quality caused by the fire resulted in numerous cancellations. While most teams typically play eight games before late December, Yamate said several teams in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have only played two so far this season. 

While league games will be rescheduled, many tournaments won't be. Yamate wanted to give his team and others affected by the fire an opportunity to make up for those lost games while simultaneously raising money for fire relief efforts through ticket sales, he said, which were $5 each. 

While about nine teams were invited to play in Santa Maria, Yamate said only two could make it. 

"I've been talking to other coaches and they said they'd love to come, but their administrations aren't even letting them practice right now," Yamate said. "It's affected a lot of teams' early seasons. But you feel for everybody because some people are losing their homes." 

Although Yamate wasn't sure how much the games had made by the Sun's press time on Dec. 22, ticket sales all went toward fire relief efforts being made through Carpinteria's chapter of the American Red Cross. Dozens of community members and students, including the entire boys' varsity basketball team, attended the games to show support, despite being in the midst of winter break. 

"We're happy to donate and help out in any small way we can," he said.

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