Thomas fire has surged on Sunday into the Santa Barbara County foothills...
The top five of California's largest modern fires had surged on Sunday into the Santa Barbara County foothills, forcing evacuations in the coastal communities of Carpinteria and Montecito.
Smoke from the fire has formed a towering pyrocumulus cloud that is capable of creating its own weather and sudden wind shifts, experts say. The fire has also spread ash and particulate across the region, creating unhealthy air quality from Santa Barbara to Bakersfield.
The smoke has also contributed to hazardous driving conditions by limiting visibility. Santa Barbara County's Twitter account urged:
"If driving in smoky areas, keep windows rolled up and vents closed. If you need air conditioning, make sure you set your system on re-circulate …"
Over Sunday night and into Monday morning, there were wind gusts of around 20 mph across the lower mountains and foothills in the region of southeastern Santa Barbara County into southwestern Ventura County.
Forecasters say, "Wind speeds are expected to be on the lower end of what's been seen over the last week."
The strongest winds are expected more toward the Ventura-Los Angeles County line and aren't expected to be particularly strong. But since it's so dry out there it doesn't take much in the way of winds to create those critical fire weather conditions.
"Right now the winds near the Thomas fire it doesn't look too terribly strong, but really any increase in wind is something to watch out for given this fire's history." Munroe said
Since it erupted near Thomas Aquinas College north of Santa Paula on Dec. 4, the Thomas fire has forced 88,000 people to flee their homes. Official estimates have put the cost of combating the blaze at $25 million.
In Los Angeles County, firefighters made progress on blazes in Sylmar, Santa Clarita and Bel-Air. The Creek fire was 95% contained, and the Rye fire was 93% contained as of Sunday evening. The Skirball fire was 85% contained.
In northern San Diego County, the Lilac fire, which was 80% contained, had burned 4,100 acres and destroyed more than 100 structures along the Highway 76 corridor that stretches west from the 15 Freeway through Bonsall and Fallbrook.