California’s largest fire on record finally 100% contained

Thomas fire burnt for more than a month, though its spread was contained several weeks ago

Michael Livingston, Los Angeles Times
13:04 January 13, 2018
The Thomas

The Thomas fire, the largest wildfire on record in California and the trigger point for this week’s deadly mudslides in Montecito, was declared 100 per cent contained Friday.

The fire burnt for more than a month, though its spread was contained several weeks ago. Heavy rains earlier this week, which caused land burnt by the fire to create mudflows that buried neighbourhoods, helped fully extinguish the blaze. In the end, the fire burnt 114,000 hectares.

The fire eclipsed the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, which burnt 110,500 hectares.

The milestone reaffirmed 2017 as the most destructive fire season in the state. In October, a series of fires in wine country burnt more than 10,000 homes and killed more than 40 people.

Those blazes, along with the Thomas fire, were fuelled by dry conditions and intense winds.

Despite its size, the Thomas fire has been less destructive than either the wine country fires or the Cedar fire, which destroyed 2,820 structures and killed 15 people.

The Thomas fire claimed just over 1,000 structures, and two deaths were attributed to the blaze. Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, was found dead in a car that crashed along an evacuation route in Ventura County on December 6, and San Diego fire engineer Cory Iverson, 32, was killed battling the fire on December 14.

The fire broke out in the foothills above Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula on December 4. Fuelled by 80km/h winds, the fire swept into downtown Ventura, burning hundreds of homes that first morning.

For the next two weeks, the blaze ebbed and flowed with the winds. It swept into the Ojai Valley but spared the resort town. Then it moved up the southern Santa Barbara County coast, where firefighters made a stand in the hills above Montecito.

This week, that same area was devastated by deadly mudflows that killed at least 17 people and destroyed scores of homes.