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Thomas Fire Becomes Third-Largest Ever as California Experiences Another Record-Breaking Wildfire Season

Wildfire in Santa Barbara, California.
© Mike Eliason/AP
Flames from a back firing operation rise behind a home in Santa Barbara, California.
It's still wildfire season in California. If you're wondering when the season ends, it's November 20th, although as you may have noticed, it's still going strong. In fact, for the last decade or so, California's 'new normal' is that wildfires continue erupting for an extra two months, and this year they may burn well past that into February.

New evacuation orders were issued this past weekend in Santa Barbara County, making downtown Santa Barbara a virtual ghost town as the Thomas fire moved closer. Wind gusts of up to 60mph pushed what is now the third-largest wildfire in California's history towards Montecito, the wealthiest city in Santa Barbara County. The rich and famous - like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres - have fled too, but fear not, their homes are less likely to burn because they pay private insurance to hire private 'concierge firefighters' to protect their homes.

Fire officials said Saturday that the Thomas fire, which started December 4, had now burned nearly 105,000 hectares (400 square miles), leaving a footprint larger than those of some cities. The fire is said to be about 40 percent contained, but fire officials added that about 18,000 structures remain threatened, and that high winds could kick up new blazes by flinging embers far from the heart of the inferno.


Eerie light bleeds through California's horizon as smoke engulfs the skies in rare December wildfires ravaging the region (VIDEO)

Eery apocolyptic glow seen on the horizon as Californian skies dimmed by smoke from unusual December fires
This is the stunning 'apocalyptic glow' that has formed over California as authorities battle a wildfire the size of Singapore.

It was filmed in the coastal city of Morro Bay and shows a smoky glow in the skies over the state, which is enduring the fifth biggest fire in its history.
The blaze, which has been named the Thomas Fire, has now burned an area of more than 230,000 acres around 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The clip was posted on Twitter by David R Purl, who wrote: "Apocalyptic smoky glow in Morrow Bay from Thomas Fire 10 Dec 2017. "God bless the Responders!"

Strong wind gusts of up to 40mph and extremely low humidity that is expected through Thursday will continue to pose a challenge to firefighting efforts, the National Weather Service said.

Cloud Grey

Huge, mushroom-shaped 'fire cloud' generates its own weather over Southern California

Professional photographer Greg Vitalich took this photo of the massive imposing smoke generated by the Thomas Fire from his back deck in Newbury Park on Dec. 11, 2017, at 11:45 a.m.
© Greg Vitalich
Professional photographer Greg Vitalich took this photo of the massive imposing smoke generated by the Thomas Fire from his back deck in Newbury Park on Dec. 11, 2017, at 11:45 a.m.
Many were captivated early Sunday afternoon when a massive pyrocumulus cloud, or fire cloud, formed over the Santa Ynez Mountains in Southern California.

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County generated the foreboding mushroom cloud of smoke resembling what you might see above an erupting volcano.

Professional photographer Greg Vitalich of Newbury Park was one of those who caught sight of the otherworldly view of smoke.

"I was leaving the house to go to lunch and I was stopped in my tracks at the sight of that omonious cloud," Vitalich says. "I've grown used to seeing the smoke and the fire from my house in recent days. This was a lot different from what I've seen."


At 230,000 acres, California's Thomas fire is now the fifth-largest wildfire in the state's history

Thomas fire, California
© Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
A huge plume of smoke rises north of Ventura as seen Sunday afternoon from the Ventura pier, as the Thomas fire threatens parts of Carpenteria and Montecito.
Santa Barbara County was under siege from the Thomas fire Sunday as fire crews fought to keep the destructive blaze from the region's picturesque beach communities.

Authorities said the out-of-control blaze had scorched 230,000 acres by Sunday evening, making it the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history.

The fire grew by more than 50,000 acres during the day, triggering new evacuation orders for about 5,000 county residents, including those east of Mission Canyon and north of Highway 192. An additional 30,000 residents west of Mission Canyon to Highway 154 and south of Highway 192 to the county line were told to prepare to leave.

As the fire grew Sunday, containment dropped from 15% to 10%, authorities said.

The blaze has destroyed 524 structures and damaged 135 in the city of Ventura. In the unincorporated areas of Ventura County, 266 structures have been destroyed, while 56 were damaged. The fire consumed six structures on Sunday in beach town of Carpinteria, authorities said.

Santa Ana winds, aided by extremely low humidity, pushed the Ventura County fire over the Santa Barbara County line Saturday night. The winds that bedeviled fire crews from San Diego to Ojai last week were gusting at speeds of up to 35 mph, fire officials said.

Comment: Other related articles:


Deadly and destructive winter wildfires are 'the new normal' says California governor

Thomas fire, California
© Noah Berger/AP
The Thomas fire burns through Los Padres National Forest near Ojai, California
A week of destructive fires in Southern California is ending but danger still looms.

Well into what's considered the wet season, there's been nary a drop of rain. That's good news for sun-seeking tourists, but could spell more disaster for a region that emerged this spring from a years long drought and now has firefighters on edge because of parched conditions and no end in sight to the typical fire season.

"This is the new normal," Gov. Jerry Brown warned Saturday after surveying damage from the deadly Ventura County fire that has caused the most destruction. "We're about ready to have firefighting at Christmas. This is very odd and unusual."

Even as firefighters made progress containing six major wildfires from Santa Barbara to San Diego County and most evacuees were allowed to return home, predicted gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph) through Sunday posed a threat of flaring up existing blazes or spreading new ones. High fire risk is expected to last into January.

Overall, out-of-control fires have destroyed nearly 800 homes and other buildings, killed dozens of horses and forced more than 200,000 people to flee flames that have burned over 270 square miles (700 square kilometers) since Monday. One death, so far, a 70-year-old woman who crashed her car on an evacuation route, is attributed to the fire in Santa Paula, a small city next to Ventura where the fire began.

Firefighters were on high alert for dangerous fire potential even before the first blazes broke out. On Dec. 1, they began planning for extreme winds forecast in the week ahead.


State of emergency declared in San Diego as yet another California inferno burns homes

Lilac Fire, a fast moving wildfire, in Bonsall, California
© Mike Blake / Reuters
A firefighter is working on extinguishing the Lilac Fire, a fast moving wildfire, in Bonsall, California, US, December 7, 2017
The Lilac Fire in San Diego North County has burned two people, charred 2,500 acres and destroyed 20 structures. The blaze erupted after several other fires raged throughout Southern California and even into West Los Angeles.

Lilac Fire

The Lilac Fire was first reported at 11:20am Thursday on the southbound Interstate-15 freeway, near the connector to the State Route 76 freeway in North County, about 45 miles northeast of San Diego. State Route 76 has since been closed to traffic, according to KNSD.

The fire prompted California Governor Jerry Brown (D) to declare a state of emergency in San Diego County. The National Weather Service (NWS) said a wildfire risk in San Diego County is extreme Thursday, due to dry vegetation and Santa Ana conditions.

Humidity was in the range of 5-15 percent, and any new fires will have a high probability of becoming big in a short period of time, according to the US Forest Service, KNSD reported.

Comment: Here's how rare it is to have large California wildfires burning in December


Here's how rare it is to have large California wildfires burning in December

The Thomas Fire, California
© Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times
The Thomas Fire reaches the 101 Freeway north of Ventura Wednesday evening.
There are at least six active wildfires burning in Southern California right now. That's nearly the total of all large December wildfires from 2000 to 2015, according to Cal Fire statistics.

The map below shows active fires as of noon, Dec. 6.

California wildfires map

If you look at the statistics below, they show a mere seven California fires that burned more than 300 acres when totaling December numbers from 2000 to 2015. The second lowest months were January and February with 11 such wildfires.

Comment: See also: 'Out of control' Southern California wildfire explodes as growing blazes force 27,000 to flee

Nearly 200,000 people have been told to evacuate the California wildfires. The Thomas fire has burned at least 90,000 acres. The Creek fire has burned at least 12,600 acres and the Rye fire destroyed at least 7,000 acres. The Skirball fire covered 475 acres as of Wednesday evening. So far the Thomas fire has destroyed at least 150 structures and the Creek fire has destroyed at least 30 structures.

More than 1,800 firefighters have battled the erratic Thomas fire, which is just 5% contained, according to the latest update by Cal Fire. The Creek fire is also 5% contained and the Skirball fire is 10% contained. Little Mountain Fire is now 100% contained.

This youtube video shows drivers heading down the 405 freeway, where they met giant flames from the several fires burning in Southern California.

Here's a downright scary look at what California drivers were faced with driving to work:

Keep in mind that right now is the 'wet season' in California, which is why December wildfires are so rare, yet no rain has arrived.

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SoCal Wildfires: Los Angeles, Ventura declare state of emergency as 200 000 evacuate.


'Out of control' Southern California wildfire explodes as growing blazes force 27,000 to flee

California wildfire Dec 2017
© David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG
Within minutes a home on Hillrose street in Sunland has burned to the ground at the Creek fire Tuesday.
Ferocious fires tore through Southern California on Tuesday, burning massive stretches of land in a matter of hours and forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes.

As firefighters in Ventura County grappled with an explosive blaze northwest of downtown Los Angeles, others across the region confronted additional fires that burned during the day and forced more evacuations. Authorities issued ominous warnings of more dangers to come during a "multiday event" across the area, as weather forecasters said the region faces "extreme fire danger" through at least Thursday due to intense Santa Ana winds and low humidity that could cause the fires to grow rapidly.

The wildfires are the latest grim chapter in a brutal year for California, coming just months after deadly blazes in the state's wine country killed dozens of people and razed thousands of buildings.

The biggest fire Tuesday was in Ventura County, where a small blaze quickly went out of control and spread across more than 50,000 acres by the afternoon. The fire - which burned an area nearly as large as Seattle - stretched into the city of Ventura, home to more than 100,000 people.

"The prospects for containment are not good," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news briefing as the fire was beginning its aggressive expansion. "Really, Mother Nature's going to decide when we have the ability to put it out."

Comment: See also: Raging wildfire threatens hundreds of homes in Ventura County, California; 1,000 households told to evacuate


Raging wildfire threatens hundreds of homes in Ventura County, California; 1,000 households told to evacuate

The 10,000-acre wildfire, known as the Thomas Fire, burned dry brush after erupting earlier in the evening in Ventura County (pictured)

The 10,000-acre wildfire, known as the Thomas Fire, burned dry brush after erupting earlier in the evening in Ventura County (pictured)
A raging wildfire has threatened hundreds of homes near Los Angeles as 1,000 households are told to evacuate.

Residents have been forced to leave their homes and one motorist was killed desperately trying to flee the rapidly-growing fire.

The 10,000-acre wildfire, known as the Thomas Fire, burned dry brush after erupting earlier in the evening in Ventura County, 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

More than 150,000 homes were without power and at least two structures were destroyed, media reported.