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Firefighters, residents brace for winds

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, firefighters follow a hose line while walking rugged and scorched terrain below E. Camino Cielo near Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Officials estimate that the fire will grow to become the biggest in California history before full containment, expected by Jan. 7. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP) Mike Eliason

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, CAL FIRE Inmate Firefighting Hand Crew members hike through the charred landscape on their way to work east of Gibraltar Road above Montecito, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Officials estimate that the fire will grow to become the biggest in California history before full containment, expected by Jan. 7. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP) Mike Eliason

  • In this Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 photo provided by Curry Sawyer, Ray and Curry Sawyer pose at a hotel where they're staying in Goleta, Calif. The Sawyers have been away from their home for 11 days because of a massive wildfire and may not be allowed back before Christmas, when both their sons and their families were supposed to celebrate the holidays. (Curry Sawyer via AP)

  • FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2017, file photo wildfire survivors, Marolyn Romero-Sim, left, with Hugo Romero-Rodriguez, center, and their 9-year-old daughter, Milagros, sit inside the evacuation center at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura, Calif. The family has been at the shelter for two weeks after they watched their home of four years, an RV, burn in the wildfire, along with their beloved dog, their Christmas tree and a few presents. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers, File) Amanda Lee Myers

  • In this Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017 photo provided provided by Curry Sawyer, Ray Sawyer, of Santa Barbara, poses at Oso Flaco Lake near Guadalupe, Calif. Sawyer and his wife Curry Sawyer have been exploring parts of California they've never seen while they've been evacuated from their home for 11 nights because of a massive wildfire. (Curry Sawyer via AP)

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a Skycrane helicopter passes firefighters atop a hillside while coming in for a water drop below E. Camino Cielo in Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Although some evacuations were lifted Monday and more residents were being allowed to return Tuesday, hillside homes are still threatened in Santa Barbara, where firefighters mounted an aggressive air attack on stubborn flames. Officials estimate that the... Mike Eliason

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Firefighters haul dozens of pounds of hose and equipment down steep terrain below E. Camino Cielo to root out and extinguish smoldering hot spots in Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Officials estimate that the Thomas Fire will grow to become the biggest in California history before full containment, expected by Jan. 7, 2018. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP) Mike Eliason

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a pilot takes his firefighting helicopter back to fill its bucket with water while working near Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. In the distance, the cargo ship Ever Envoy transits the Santa Barbara Channel with Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Island behind. Officials estimate that the Thomas Fire will grow to become the biggest in California history before full containment, expected by Jan. 7.... Mike Eliason

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Ryan Thomas hikes down steep terrain below East Camino Cielo to meet with his crew and root out and extinguish smoldering hot spots in Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Officials estimate that the Thomas Fire will grow to become the biggest in California history before full containment, expected by Jan. 7, 2018. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP) Mike Eliason



Associated Press
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

After a welcome lull in powerful winds that drove Southern California’s massive wildfire, crews and homeowners braced Wednesday for the return of potentially dangerous gusts that could revive the flames.

Some residents are watching from afar at hotels and evacuation centers, while others are waiting in their homes and hoping for the best.

Katy and Bob Zappala have stayed in their home in Santa Barbara, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, despite a mandatory evacuation order that’s been in place since Saturday.

“Our cars are packed, we have all our clothes and jewelry, so we’re ready to leave at a moment’s notice should we have to,” Katy Zappala, 74, said Wednesday. “We’re ready to leap in and leave, and we’re just keeping a good eye on the sky.”

The Zappalas and their cat, Madeline, haven’t left home since the evacuation order was issued because authorities wouldn’t allow them back in. They’re starting to run out of food and are hoping that if they make it through the next wave of winds, the ordeal will be over.

“It’s a critical day,” Zappala said. “You’re always nervous when the winds come up.”

Some 18,000 homes and other buildings remain threatened in Ventura and Santa Barba counties.

The Thomas Fire, which began Dec. 4, is responsible for two deaths, has destroyed at least 750 homes, and has burned about 425 square miles.

The blaze was 60 percent contained and now the second-largest in California history. Officials said the new winds could cause it to grow into the state’s biggest fire ever.

Firefighters used three days of calm conditions to bulldoze containment lines and set controlled fires to clear dry brush ahead of winds expected to whip up Wednesday afternoon.

Forecasts called for winds of 20 mph to 30 mph with gusts of up to 60 mph by early evening.

That would force fire crews to fall back to safe zones rather than risk being trapped by the surging flames.