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California wildfires now larger than New York City and Boston combined

California wildfires now larger than New York City and Boston combined
Posted at 3:56 AM, Dec 11, 2017

Firefighters are struggling to contain the biggest of six blazes burning in southern California, with the Thomas Fire slipping from 15% containment to 10% Sunday.

Covering 230,000 acres, the Thomas Fire is now the fifth largest blaze in modern California history. The fires are collectively burning an area larger than New York City and Boston combined.

Gusty winds and dry conditions are not helping the wildfire's spread, and there's no rain in the forecast for at least 10 days.



Latest developments

Elevated conditions: The Santa Ana winds are forecast to decrease heading into Tuesday, but could gust between 40-55 mph on Monday before tapering, CNN meteorologist Rachel Aissen says. Ventura County and surrounding areas are under an elevated fire outlook, with temperatures remaining between 78-82 degrees as humidity continues to fall in a range below 10%.

Warnings: A Red Flag Warning for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties has been extended through Monday evening, the National Weather Service said. It means that elevated fire weather conditions are expected due to a combination of gusty winds and low humidity.

Power cuts: The Thomas Fire is causing intermittent electricity outages in Santa Barbara County. Southern California Edison said that outages and surges could potentially affect up to 85,000 customers, with 2,432 customers without power at 9 p.m. PST Sunday (midnight ET).

Evacuations: Some 94,607 people were under mandatory evacuation orders in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties Sunday evening, Ventura County Sheriff Captain Garo Kuredjian told CNN.

School closures: The Santa Barbara City Office of Emergency Services said in a tweet that 19 of its 20 school districts would be closed Monday and that all South County School Districts would remain closed through the end of the week.

Death toll: The death toll from the Thomas Fire stands at one. Authorities believe Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, died in a crash while fleeing the fire, her body was found Wednesday.

The fires

The six blazes vary in size.

Thomas Fire: It had scorched 230,000 acres by Sunday evening, with about 10% of it contained. It started Monday in Ventura County, and has since spread into Santa Barbara County. The fire has surpassed the 1932 Matilija Fire -- which burned 220,000 acres -- to become Ventura County's largest recorded blaze, according to CalFire.It has destroyed 790 structures and damaged 191, Ventura County Sheriff Captain Garo Kuredjian told CNN, with firefighting efforts costing $34 million by Sunday night.

Creek Fire: The second-largest blaze ignited Tuesday in neighboring Los Angeles County. It has burned 15,619 acresand is 95% contained.

Rye Fire: It broke out Tuesday in Los Angeles County and has burned 6,049 acres. Firefighters are making progress, with 93% of the blaze contained.

Lilac Fire: This fast-moving fire has consumed 4,100 acres since it ignited Thursday in San Diego County. Firefighters have regained control of it, and it's 75% contained.

Skirball Fire: It started Wednesday as a brush fire in Los Angeles County. It has burned 422 acres and is now 85% contained.

Liberty Fire: The blaze in Riverside County has burned 300 acres since it ignited Thursday. It's 100% contained, but authorities are monitoring it ahead of a forecast increase in winds.

New normal?

As California Gov. Jerry Brown surveyed the damage in Ventura County Saturday, he predicted that extreme fire activity would happen on a regular basis for decades.

"With climate change, some scientists are saying that Southern California is literally burning up," the governor, who is an advocate for climate science, said. "So we have to have the resources to combat the fires and we also have to invest in managing the vegetation and forests ... in a place that's getting hotter."

As for those facing the flames of the current wildfires, there's gratitude -- for life, community and the efforts of the firefighters working to protect both.

One family whose home was destroyed in the Creek Firetold CNN affiliate KCAL9 News that they had lost everything to the blaze but were grateful to be alive.

"For me, it was like my 15 years of living here was flashing by -- of memories, you know, the gatherings, all that," Javier Hernandez told the station. "And then at the same time, we were like, 'OK, my family's OK. If it's gonna burn, it's gonna burn.'"

A number of celebrities voiced their thanks to firefighters and concern for the communities at risk from fire.

Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres, who both have homes in Montecito, tweeted that they were praying for their communities.

"Our house is under threat of being burned. We just had to evacuate our pets. I'm praying for everyone in our community and thankful to all the incredible firefighters," Degeneres said, adding in a later tweet that she was proud to be part of a community where people were helping each other to safety.

Winfrey tweeted that her prayer as the fires raged was "peace be still."

Retired tennis player Jimmy Connors' said the Thomas Fire was also threatening his home, tweeting his thanks to the firefighters "working tirelessly."

Firefighters from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington state are helping to fight the fires.

Additionally, the Nevada Department of Corrections and Nevada Division of Forestry -- which run conservation camps for inmates -- have sent six trained crews to help.

The crews of minimum security inmates will be fighting the Thomas Fire, the department said in a release.