What to Know
- The fire has burned 272,000 acres in its path.
- Fire crews have contained the blaze by 55 percent.
- Two people have died as a result of the inferno.
The Thomas Fire is on track to becoming the largest wildfire in California history as the blaze had burned 272,000 acres by Tuesday evening, according to Cal Fire.
Experts previously stated that the fire is expected to be contained by Jan. 7, but newly decreased winds could give firefighters the advantage to gain ground on the blaze. As of Tuesday evening, the deadly fire was 55 percent contained.
The wildfire, which began Dec. 4 in Ventura County, is closing in on the October 2003 Cedar fire (273,246 acres) on the list of California's largest blazes. It is the seventh-most destructive wildfire on record in California, having burned at least 1,300 structures.
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Crews used the respite from the wind to remove dry brush on the northern flank of the fire. That brush would have provided fuel for the fire.
"We're going to take a lot of that fuel out of there," fire Capt. Rick Crawford said. "That way when the winds come back there'll be nothing left to burn."
Winds are expected to pick up again Wednesday.
Over 8,500 firefighters continue to battle the blaze as 18,000 structures are still threatened. The costs associated with fighting the inferno are nearly $136 million. As of now, the Thomas Fire is the second-largest wildfire in the history of California.
Two people have died as a result of the inferno.
Cory Iverson, 32, was killed as he battled the blaze with a San Diego Cal Fire strike team. The father and husband died Thursday, Dec. 14 after he suffered from thermal injuries and smoke inhalation.
Virginia Pesola, 70, was found dead at the site of a crash near an evacuation route. She was killed by smoke inhalation, blunt force injuries.
Mandatory evacuations remain in place for thousands of Ventura and Santa Barbara county residents. Click here for evacuation updates in Santa Barbara County. Click here for evacuation updates in Ventura County.
High fire risk is expected to last into January, adding to fears that months of deadly and destructive wildfire danger will extend into early next year. Cal Fire reported 6,982 fires in California from Jan. 1 to Dec. 17, including the devastating North Bay fires in October. Those fires scorched more than 505,900 acres, more than double last year’s burned acreage count. During that same period in 2016, the state firefighting agency reported 4,759 fires that burned 244,304 acres.
California's five-year average for wildfires during that time frame is 4,787 and 202,737 acres burned.
The significant increase in the numbers and size of fires is largely because the state is coming off one of its wettest winters in years in 2016-2017, which left hillsides covered in grass and other vegetation. That grass dried out in summer and turned into tinder, providing fuel for rapidly spreading fires often pushed by strong winds that can carry hot embers for miles and turn small spot fires into infernos.
An increase in the number of dead and dying trees also has exacerbated the wildfire threat, Cal Fire officials said. An estimated 102 million trees have died in California due to the state's five-year dry spell and bark beetle infestation.