One of the more surreal Sundays on State Street occurred Dec. 10 as the Thomas fire moved well into Santa Barbara County and prompted many business to close their doors to keep the ashes out or just shut down for the day.
Even more businesses were closed Monday.
The weeklong fire had prompted evacuations in Carpinteria and Montecito, but the air quality on the entire South Coast forced many people to don, at one point, hard-to-find masks to breathe the particulate-filled December air.
Direct Relief, Costco and other organizations have been giving out free protective masks, but there is a limit of two per person. The masks are for adults only because they will not fit children.
Santa Barbara’s downtown library, 40 E. Anapamu St., is giving away masks until they run out.
Hardest hit by the foul air were the many homeless and transient people on State Street who had no recourse but to breathe the hazardous air.
Santa Barbara Region Chamber member Direct Relief provided N95-rated masks to fellow members. And, chamber employees Stephanie Armstrong and Karl Evers spent a portion of Monday walking State Street handing out masks to those in need.
As the fire moved toward 200,000 acres and some 800 structures burned, many Santa Barbara residents have traveled north or are seriously considering to do so.
While the South Coast has been victim of half a dozen large wildfires in the past 10 years, this is the first time in a decade that a fire that started outside the county has had such a profound effect on the South Coast’s air quality and businesses that rely on holiday shoppers this time of year.
Even Ralph’s supermarket on Chapala and Carrillo streets had to shut down, apparently because of a 3 p.m. power surge. The fire has been burning under power lines.
Looking at the situation locally, it looks awful, but for Ventura County, recovery will take years.