A huge blaze that has devastated swaths of Southern California is on course to become the largest wildfire in the state’s modern history and is expected to burn into January.
The Thomas Fire, the biggest of a number of blazes currently burning in California, has torched 270,000 acres, making it the state’s third-largest since reliable record-keeping began in 1932. The largest, the 2003 Cedar Fire near San Diego, destroyed 273,246 acres.
Diminishing winds and increasing humidity are in the forecast over the next couple of days, hopeful news for beleaguered Californians and fatigued firefighters. But there is still little rain forecast for the next 10 days, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said.
The Thomas Fire also is currently the third-most destructive in structure losses, with more than 1,000 buildings burned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.
The spate of fires, 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 rages on. As of Sunday night, it was still only 45% contained, the alert states. Authorities predict the fire will be contained by January 7.
While thousands of residents threatened by the fire 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 has turned neighborhoods to piles of soot and concrete as it churns through the area.
• 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. Damages have topped $10 billion, and that was before the current fires began in Southern California.
• Size: The Thomas fire has burned an area larger than New York City, Washington D.C. and San Francisco combined – and larger than any city in California except Los Angeles.
• Multiple casualties: A total of two people, including one firefighter, have been killed since the fires started.