California winds fuel state's third-largest wildfire

Firefighters keep a close watch on the Thomas wildfire in the hills outside Montecito, California, December 16, 2017. (REUTERS/Gene Blevins)
Firefighters keep a close watch on the Thomas wildfire in the hills outside Montecito, California, December 16, 2017. (REUTERS/Gene Blevins)

Strong winds that have powered the third-largest wildfire in California’s history were expected on Sunday to further fuel a blaze that has burned 267,500 acres.

Nearly 8,500 firefighters are battling the so-called Thomas Fire in southern California, which began Dec. 4 and has destroyed more than 1,000 structures and threatened 18,000 more, including homes in the wealthy town of Montecito just outside the coastal city of Santa Barbara.

While the winds were expected to ease on Sunday near Santa Barbara, northeast wind gusts up to 55 mph were forecast through Sunday for parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, National Weather Service forecasters said.

The blaze, centered less than 100 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, has forced evacuations that turned neighborhoods into ghost towns and filled the air with smoke.

The fire is now 40 percent contained despite hot Santa Ana winds that have powered its expansion, at times sending embers far ahead of its main flank.

Firefighters were employing more than 970 fire engines and 34 helicopters to battle the blaze.

“It is a beast,” Santa Barbara County Fire Department Division Chief Martin Johnson told a news conference on Saturday. “But we will kill it.” Five of 20 most destructive fires in recorded history ravaged the state in 2017, according to Cal Fire.

The Thomas fire forced many schools to close for days, shut roads and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. It was also responsible for poor air quality throughout southern California.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

On Saturday, evacuation orders were issued for parts of Santa Barbara County as high winds whipped the fire through bone-dry terrain.

In Montecito on Saturday, smoke billowing from nearby canyons and pushed by the high winds choked the air, hindering aircraft from dropping flame retardant, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said. An evacuation order for the city of Ventura was lifted on Saturday morning.

Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson, 32, died on Thursday while battling the flames near the Ventura County community of Fillmore. The blaze’s first fatality, he died of smoke inhalation and burns, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office said.

CONTINUE READING

MORE Nation & World ARTICLES TO READ NEXT ...

The front yard of the house in the quiet neighborhood in Perris, California, was often overgrown with weeds nearly six feet tall. There were no toys, no bicycles in the front yard, neighbors said. More than a dozen children suppos ...

COPENHAGEN - Danish prosecutors will seek to have inventor Peter Madsen jailed for life for killing Swedish journalist Kim Wall on his home built submarine in a premeditated murder, possibly by either cutting her throat or strangl ...

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.

Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.