Dec 18, 2017

Thomas Fire on course to become California's largest-ever wildfire

Santa Barbara, CA
USA
by
Euan McKirdy
,
CNN
Photo: Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara County Fire Department/AP
Photo: Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara County Fire Department/AP

A wildfire that has devastated swaths of southern California is on course to become the largest wildfire in the state's modern history.

The Thomas Fire, the biggest of a number of blazes in California, is currently the state's third largest since reliable records began in 1932, with 270,000 acres burned. The largest, the 2003 Cedar Fire, destroyed 273,246 acres.

The Thomas Fire also is currently the third-most destructive in structure loss, with more than 1,000 buildings burned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.

The huge blazes, which have burned for two weeks without respite, have affected over 100,000 Californians, many of whom have been forced to flee their homes, either through mandatory or voluntary evacuations -- with no guarantee that they will have anything left when they return.

According to an update released by Cal Fire, 18,000 structures are still threatened as the Thomas Fire blazes on. As of Sunday night, it was still only 45% contained, the alert states.

While thousands of residents threatened by the blaze remain under evacuation, others have been allowed back in their homes -- or, at least, what was left of them.

The fire is so massive that more than 8,400 firefighters are working around the clock to save lives and contain it. It's bigger in acreage than the area covered by New York City, and has turned neighborhoods to piles of soot and concrete as it churns through the area.

The latest

• Improving weather conditions: Winds should die down and stay that way through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) Los Angeles. However, northerly winds are expected to pick back up Wednesday evening, and Santa Ana winds are possible Thursday into the weekend.

• Long-awaited rain: Trace amounts of rain were observed with the frontal passage in Van Nuys, Burbank, Lancaster, Palmdale, and Los Angeles International Airport, says CNN's Pedram Javaheri.

• Hefty price tag: About $110 million has been spent fighting the massive blaze, fire officials said. This year has been the costliest for wildfires in US history. Damage has topped $10 billion -- and that was before the current fires began in Southern California.

• Multiple casualties: A total of two people, including one firefighter, have been killed since the fires started.