Thomas Fire becomes third largest in California’s history as firefighters face strong winds this weekend

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
December 17, 2017, 10:27:41 AM EST


Winds will again kick up and become strong, raising the risk of rapidly spreading wildfires in Southern California through Sunday as firefighters continue to battle the historic Thomas Fire.

The Thomas Fire is likely to become California's largest blaze on record.

The fire danger will increase as multiple blazes continue to burn in the state. The deadly Thomas Fire is now the third largest in California's history.

According to InciWeb, the blaze has burned a total of 269,000 acres and was 40 percent contained as of Sunday morning.

The top two fires in California's history each charred more than 272,000 acres. The Rush Fire occurred in August 2012 and burned 272,000 acres. The Cedar Fire occurred in October 2003 and burned 273, 000 acres.

Hundreds of structures have already burned, and more are at risk in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito and other communities.

During this weekend, north to northeasterly winds may become strong enough to break tree limbs and down power lines. Any sparks or burning embers from existing fires may initiate new blazes.

SoCal fire danger 12.17 AM


"Residents living in wind-prone areas need to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said.

Northern California first felt the wind build at the start of the weekend. Winds will ease in this part of the state as the daylight hours progress on Sunday.

In Southern California, strong winds will continue to whip through Sunday.

At peak, gusts frequenting 40 to 60 mph are likely. The highest gusts will be over some of the ridges and through the passes.

In addition to the threat from rapidly spreading wildfires will be areas of smoke, blowing dust and difficulty for high-profile vehicles when encountering strong crosswinds.

Downtown Los Angeles will be somewhat sheltered from the strong winds, as is usually the case.

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An area of high pressure will continue to build southeastward across the interior West this weekend. As this occurs, barometric pressure will rise.

The rush of air produced by the high will be forced over the mountains, through the passes and canyons and into some of the valley areas along the coast.

Winds will begin to ease in Southern California from Sunday evening into early next week.

"However, a blast of cold air into the Rockies may return strong winds and a high fire danger to California later this week," Pydynowski said.

The overall weather pattern is likely to remain conducive for additional Santa Ana events into the start of 2018.

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