National News

Gusty winds, low humidity tax tired California firefighters

Posted December 12, 2017 10:53 p.m. EST
Updated December 13, 2017 2:55 p.m. EST

— Firefighters battling the massive Thomas Fire in Southern California have contained 25% of the blaze, but the weary crews have their work cut out for them in the days to come.

Wind gusts and low humidity are giving life to the ravaging blaze -- a behemoth larger than New York City -- that is destroying and damaging property and prompting mandatory and voluntary evacuations.

The inferno threatens Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito and surrounding areas, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

Relief from the parched and blustery weather won't be in sight for several days.

"The dry spell looks to sustain itself for at least the next week," said CNN meteorologist Michael Guy. "But some long-range models project some rain relief coming by Christmas which would be a welcome gift for the firefighters and residents of the region. This is still a long way out, so we will keep monitoring it for any changes."

Latest developments

Making history: At more than 236,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the Thomas Fire is now the fifth-largest wildfire in modern California history.

Months without rain: It has been more than 250 days since rain was recorded in the part of Ventura County where the Thomas Fire sparked on December 4, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

Devastation: Seven hundred and one single-family residences, 12 commercial structures and 182 minor structures have been destroyed.

Red flag warning: An advisory citing critical fire weather conditions is in effect until 10 a.m. (1 p.m. ET) Friday.

Wind: Gusts could reach 40 mph or higher in parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Humidity: Levels will still be extremely low with low recovery in the overnight hours. Temperatures will remain in the upper 70s and low 80s. Santa Ana wind advisories are possible by the end of the week.

Evacuations: At least 95,000 residents have been evacuated in Southern California, Cal Fire said.

Death toll: There has been one death in the Thomas Fire. Authorities said they believe Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula died in a crash while fleeing the fire. Her body was found last Wednesday.

More than 1,000 structures destroyed

The Thomas Fire is one of six major wildfires torching Southern California. The fires have destroyed more than 1,000 structures since igniting.

The blazes vary in size, but together, they are larger than the cities of New York and Boston combined, or bigger than Singapore.

One of the fires, named Skirball, was caused by an "illegal cooking fire at an encampment in a brush area" near where Sepulveda Boulevard crosses under the San Diego Freeway, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. No arrests have been made.

The Skirball Fire, which broke out a week ago, consumed more than 400 acres, destroyed six homes and damaged 12 others, the fire department said in a statement. It's 85% contained.

The causes of the other major fires have yet to be determined.