LA CONCHITA, Calif. (KTVU/AP) - A woman in her car was reported as the first official death of the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, the biggest of the wildfires burning in Southern California, authorities said on Thursday.
The Ventura County Fire Department said the woman was found dead in her car in Wheeler Canyon near Ojai, authorities said. The exact circumstances of her death weren't immediately known.
By Thursday morning, the Thomas Fire had scorched 96,000 acres and was 5 percent contained, Cal Fire reported. A total of 15,000 structures remained threatened and expected wind gusts of up to 80 mph were posing a dangerous threat to firefighters.
Ventura County sheriff's Sgt. Eric Buschow said the flames have been creeping closer and slowly surrounding the town of Ojai, and Wednesday night increasing winds brought them close enough to expand evacuation orders there.
Flames were visible from the city's downtown and ash was raining down.
Parts of Ojai were already under evacuation orders, and the entire valley surrounding it had been under a voluntary evacuation advisory since the fire broke out on Monday.
The new evacuations meant most of the town of about 7,000 people was under mandatory orders.
Nearly 30,000 people are under evacuation orders for the fire.
Bill Harbison stayed back in La Conchita, a small town in western Ventura County near Santa Barbara, to protect his home with a hose. He watched as embers rained down near a eucalyptus tree and he jumped into action.
"Everything was just blowing up in front of us," he said.