Thomas Fire - Update 3 - Burning Seeps Vapor Being Tested

Update 3 - Tuesday, December 19 - two weeks after start of the Thomas Fire the oil seeps in Upper Ojai are still burning and there is a strong vapor smell in the area. Residents are concerned about what is in the air and what is being done to inform and protect the public and stop the burning seeps. 

The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) took three air samples with a "canister" on Fri. Dec. 15 from three locations in the Upper Ojai Valley. 

"We took three canister grab samples on Friday 12/15:  1) at 11100 Big Canyon Rd; 2) right next to a smoldering seep off of Hwy 150 (near Osborn); and 3) at the entrance to St. Thomas Aquinas College at Hwy 150 (we received calls regarding the odors from the burning seeps from the college).  We are having a lab run an analysis that will look for BTEX compounds," said Mike Villegas in an email to CFROG on Dec. 19. 

BTEX compounds include: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene and occur in crude oil.  

Besides the potential for BTEX compounds to be in the vapor and particulates emitted from the burning seeps the presence of "PAH" compounds has so far been untested. PAH compounds are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, which are emitted when coal, oil or gasoline is burned (more info here

"On PAHs, I spoke to a local atmospheric analysis lab, and learned the sampling for PAHs is difficult.  Further our district does not have the equipment to sample for PAHs.   I have reached out to the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District for assistance.  We will continue to look into this issue, as time allows," said Villegas. 

Here is more information on PAH's in burning oil from NOAA and their work during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. 

Reports today are that the "foam" the fire crews plan to use to put out the seep fires has been delayed and it may be some time until it arrives. Residents in upper ojai have organized and have located and mapped a four acre seep "field" that is burning and they are trying to "cut a line" of trail/road to that location. 

Residents in the area who are concerned about the air or want to report vapor odors or smoke should call the following and let them know your concerns: 

Ventura County Air Pollution Control District: 805-662-6960

Ventura County Public Health: 805-981-5221

Ventura County Supervisor, District 1, Steve Bennett: 805-654-2703

Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, local Oxnard office: 805-988-1940

Assembly member Monique Limón: 805-564-1649

Here is the current advisory from the VCAPCD regarding Upper Ojai: http://www.vcapcd.org/

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  • Steve Primus
  • Steve Colome
    Thank you for this update. The BTEX scan is relatively easy, inexpensive and will demonstrate the obvious which is these seeps are composed of oil byproducts vaporized and partially combusted. Of the BTEX array the one of greatest concern for health is the carcinogen benzene.
    We should followup on the request for assistance from the California Air Resources Board to monitor for PAH compounds in the area. This request may be expedited by our local elected officials. Equipment could be air freighted to the VC APCD overnight.