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Intensifying winds threaten to fan massive Thomas Fire in California late this week

By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
December 15, 2017, 6:45:01 AM EST


Strengthening winds will pose challenges to fire crews and put additional lives and property at risk in California into the weekend as the historic Thomas Fire continues to rage.

A CAL Fire Engineer from the San Diego Unit died on Thursday while fighting the Thomas Fire. The death is the second attributed to the fire.

"I am very saddened to report that a firefighter fatality has occurred on the Thomas incident. Please join me in keeping our fallen firefighter and his loved ones in your prayers," Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said in a statement.

As of Thursday evening, Dec. 14, the blaze’s acreage has soared to 249,500 acres, putting it fourth on the list of the top 20 largest California wildfires.

Thomas Fire AP

The Thomas fire burns through Los Padres National Forest near Ojai, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)


The wildfire, located in Ventura County, has destroyed over 900 structures since it sparked on Monday, Dec. 4. A total of 18,000 structures remain threatened. One death has been attributed to the blaze.

Several other fires continue to char acreage in Southern California, including the Skirball, Creek and Lilac fires, but firefighters have gained the upper hand on these blazes.

Gusty winds that ramped up on Thursday across Southern California will gradually diminish into Friday afternoon.

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It will remain very dry and warm, however, with temperatures averaging 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in the 70s and lower 80s F to end the week. In Southern California, December typically features highs in the 60s F.

Cooler and more seasonable air will settle in during Friday and Saturday.

However, persistent rain-free conditions and the return of a moderate Santa Ana event by Sunday may negate the less extreme warmth for firefighting efforts.

Static California Winds Weekend


“No matter how you look at it, the fire danger will rise again over the weekend,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said.

Winds will kick up over parts of Northern California on Saturday, then spread southward as the weekend progresses.

Regardless of Santa Ana winds, blazes as large as the Thomas Fire can create their own wind, which can trigger erratic fire behavior and rapid fire growth.

"Where and when winds ease at night through next week, smoke may gather and fill some valley locations, which will challenge firefighters and those venturing outdoors," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

The elderly and those with respiratory issues should wear a protective mask when venturing outdoors or limit time outdoors altogether.

Given the continued threat for wildfire ignition and growth into the weekend, residents should have a plan in place and an emergency kit stocked with medications and important documents at the ready in case an evacuation is issued. Keeping your pets leashes, crates and other necessary items near the door can also help save precious time in the event of an evacuation.

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