Thomas Fire Now Largest Fire in California State History

Wildfire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had scorched 273,400 acres

 

This Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 false-color image from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite via NASA, shows a brown burn scar from the Thomas fire north of the city of Ventura, Calif., at bottom center. The flames stand out starkly as smoke billows toward the Pacific Ocean and untouched areas of vegetation appear in bright shades of green. The huge wildfire that burned hundreds of homes in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties is now the largest in California’s recorded history. State fire officials said Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, that the Thomas fire has scorched 273,400 acres, or about 427 square miles of coastal foothills and national forest. (European Space Agency/NASA via AP, File)

 

By ROBERT JABLON, Associated Press

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California wildfire that has killed two people and seared its way through cities, towns and wilderness northwest of Los Angeles became the largest blaze ever officially recorded in California on Friday, authorities said.

The Thomas fire took only 2 ½ weeks to burn its way into history books as unrelenting winds and parched weather turned everything in its path to tinder — including more than 700 homes.

The fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had scorched 273,400 acres, or about 427 square miles of coastal foothills and national forest, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

That was 154 acres larger than California’s previous fire record holder — the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County that killed 15 people.

The Cedar fire had been recognized as the biggest California wildfire in terms of acreage since 1932. Some fires before that date undoubtedly were larger but records are unreliable, according to state fire officials.

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A firefighter and a civilian fleeing the flames died in the Thomas fire as days of unrelentingly dry, gusty winds drove the flames. At times firefighters were forced to retreat to safe areas and simply wait for the flames to pass so they could attack them from the rear.

In this Dec. 12, 2017, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, fire burns canyons and ridges above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon as the fight to contain a wildfire continues in Montecito, Calif. The huge wildfire that burned hundreds of homes in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties is now the largest in California’s recorded history. State fire officials said Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, that the Thomas fire has scorched 273,400 acres, or about 427 square miles of coastal foothills and national forest. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP, File)

Often erratic gusts combined with extremely low humidity — it dropped to just 1 percent on some days — pushed the blaze with virtually unprecedented speed, blackening more ground in weeks than other fires had consumed in a month or more.

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On Wednesday, as the fire continued to march north and west, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Zaniboni was awed by the speed of its growth.

“Those (other) fires burned for weeks and weeks and this fire is only a few weeks old,” he said. “It’s incredible.”

By that point, firefighters already were beginning to take advantage of a lull in the weather. Several days of easing winds allowed crews to burn and bulldoze protective firebreaks in the foothills above threatened communities, including the celebrity enclave of Montecito.

By Thursday, most of the southern end of the fire also was surrounded and the last mandatory evacuation orders were called off.

As of Friday, while 18,000 homes and other buildings were technically still at risk, there was little flame showing in previously burned areas and the fire was moving slowly through remote wilderness.

In this Dec. 5, 2017, file photo, a wildfire burns along the 101 Freeway in Ventura, Calif. The huge wildfire that burned hundreds of homes in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties is now the largest in California’s recorded history. State fire officials said Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, that the Thomas fire has scorched 273,400 acres, or about 427 square miles of coastal foothills and national forest. Thousands of firefighters and fleets of aircraft have been battling the blaze since Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The fire was 65 percent contained and colder, moister weather was helping. Although some 50-mph winds gusts were recorded, it produced “no remarkable fire activity” near Montecito or other areas, according to a state fire report.

Brush and timber in the area remain tinder dry, and fire crews are setting backfires to burn it out, and that could add to the fire’s size.

“The main fire itself will not have any growth,” Capt. Brandon Vaccaro of the California City Fire Department told the Los Angeles Times. “Any growth that we see or is reflected in the acreage will be based on the control burns.”

All contents © copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Wildfire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had scorched 273,400 acres     By ROBERT JABLON, Associated Press LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California wildfire that has killed two people and seared its way through cities, towns and wilderness northwest of Los Angeles became the largest blaze ever officially recorded in California on Friday, authorities […]

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