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The massive Thomas Fire exploded to 267,500 acres by Saturday evening after it scorched through Ventura and Santa Barbara County for a 12th day. Fire crews have been able to contain the monstrous blaze by 40 percent and expect it to be fully contained by Jan. 7, 2018, with the cost of the extensive fight expected to reach $110 million.
Dry heat and Santa Ana winds have posed a threat for firefighters as conditions have been fueling the blaze since it first began on Monday, Dec. 4. A red flag warning will remain in effect through Sunday evening, with experts expecting gusts of winds to reach up to 40 mph.
The northerly "sundowner" wind was driving the fire south and west.
"When the sundowners surface in that area and the fire starts running down slopes, you are not going to stop it," Mark Brown with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said at a news conference. "And we are not going to stand in front of it and put firefighters in untenable situations."
The flames destroyed nearly 1,000 structures and the cost associated with battling the fire is $110 million, according to Cal Fire. One Cal Fire engineer’s life was claimed by the fire after 32-year-old Cory Iverson of Escondido died battling the inferno.
The wind-driven blaze, which has been dubbed as the state’s third-largest wildfire ever, prompted mandatory evacuations for some 95,000 people in the flames’ path.
Evacuation orders are still in effect for the areas of Sespe Creek to the west, Burson Ranch to the east, the Los Padres Forest boundary to the north and the Fillmore City limits to the south.
By around 10 a.m., new mandatory evacuations were issued for the areas north of the 101 Freeway, south of the 192 Freeway, west of Toro Canyon Road and east of Summit Road. The 101 Freeway was closed at Seacliff Road to allow people to evacuate.
The Santa Barbara Zoo, which is near the mandatory evacuation zone, announced it was putting some animals in crates to prepare for possible evacuation. The zoo has about 150 species of animals, including a pair of Amur leopards, a critically endangered species.
Everything about the fire has been massive, from the sheer scale of destruction that cremated entire neighborhoods to the legions attacking it: about 8,400 firefighters from nearly a dozen states, aided by 78 bulldozers and 29 helicopters.
Numerous schools announced closures in wake of the fire:
- Fillmore Unified School District
- Santa Paula Unified School District
- Ventura Unified School District
- Briggs Elementary School
- Mupu Elementary School
- Oxnard Union HSD
- Rio Elemantary School
- Santa Clara Elementary School
- Ventura Charter School
- California State University, Channel Islands’ Goleta campus will remain closed through Dec. 23.
- All VCOE-operated schools in the Ojai Unified and Ventura Unified School Districts will be closed through Dec. 22.