California Thomas wildfire still threatens thousands of homes

Flames from a back firing operation rise behind a home in Santa Barbara, California. Photograph: Mike Eliason/AP


The Thomas fire, the 11-day-old and fourth-largest wildfire in California history, continued to grow and threaten thousands of homes on Saturday, despite the efforts of armies of fire crews and fleets of bulldozers and aircraft.

Santa Ana winds fanning the flames north-west of Los Angeles eased on Friday but they were expected to return strongly over the weekend. The fire is so large that winds on one end of it may be gustier than those on the other side.

The fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has devoured 400 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) of brush and timber and burned more than 1,000 buildings, including more than 750 homes. Another 18,000 buildings are still in jeopardy, including mansions in the wealthy enclave of Montecito.

The fire was only 35% surrounded by Friday night, despite ongoing efforts by some 8,000 firefighters, 32 helicopters and 78 bulldozers.

Santa Barbara has had only a tiny amount of rain since 1 October, the start of the new water year, and is more than 3in (7.6cm) below normal to date.

Another focus of firefighting was on the eastern flank of the blaze, in canyons where a state firefighter was killed on Thursday near the agricultural town of Fillmore. Officials have released no details on the death of 32-year-old Cory Iverson.

The National Weather Service forecast extreme fire danger or “red flag” conditions through at least Saturday evening, with winds gusting to 40mph in the Santa Barbara County mountains where the fire is burning.

Firefighters were facing northerly “sundowner” winds through the night, that could turn into north-easterly Santa Ana winds, driving the flames in another direction.

Everything about the fire was massive, from a footprint larger than that of many cities to the sheer scale of destruction that cremated entire neighborhoods. Firefighting costs were approaching $89m.

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