Massive Thomas Fire grows to 5th largest in California history

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
December 12, 2017, 10:12:17 PM EST

One week since it first began, the destructive and challenging Thomas Fire has already soared into the record books as one of the largest wildfires in California history.

As of Tuesday, Dec. 12, the fire’s acreage has soared to 236,000 acres, putting it fifth on the list of the top 20 largest California wildfires.

The blaze, located in Ventura County, began north of the town of Santa Paula on Monday, Dec. 4, and has destroyed over 900 structures while damaging around 200. A total of 18,000 structures remain threatened.

The Associated Press reported that one death has been attributed to the firestorm. A 70-year-old woman was found dead after her car crashed along an evacuation route near Santa Paula.

Mandatory evacuations remain in place for portions of the cities of Ventura and Ojai.

thomas fire 12/11/2017

A motorist on Highway 101 watches flames from the Thomas Fire leap above the roadway north of Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

More than 5,700 firefighting personnel are working to contain the Thomas Fire. Fire officials say extreme fire behavior is hampering control efforts and the fire continues to actively push west, threatening the communities of Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito.

The Thomas Fire underwent explosive growth when it charred 30,000 acres from Dec. 4 into the morning of Dec. 5. That rapid spread was due to the fiercest Santa Ana wind event of the season.

While winds will not be as strong this week, breezy conditions will continue to buffet the mountains and some canyon locations into Thursday.

Static Cali Winds

"In most cases winds will kick up during the midday from the northeast and diminish at night," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "However, winds near the coast may shift 180 degrees during the afternoon."

The daily breezes and ongoing lack of rain and desertlike humidity will also serve as factors that could further stoke the fire.

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"Where and when winds ease at night into the start of each day, smoke may gather and fill some valley locations, which will challenge firefighters and those venturing outdoors," Sosnowski said.

A number of other large fires erupted last week including the Creek Fire, the Skirball Fire, the Rye Fire and the Lilac Fire, but those have been largely contained. The total acreage burned by the wildfires is said to be larger than the combined size of New York City and Boston.

Many schools remain closed in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, although some have been able to reopen.

Numerous fire and wind-related power outages have also occurred. Around 85,000 customers are without power in the Santa Barbara area, while more than 2,100 are without power around Ventura.

The cost of the fire has exceeded $48 million as of Dec. 12.

As the Thomas Fire continues to grow, the next biggest fire on the list is the Zaca Fire, which burned 240,207 acres in Santa Barbara County in July 2007. The largest fire in state history is the Cedar Fire. That blaze charred 273,246 acres in San Diego County in October 2003.

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