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Thomas Fire, Now the 3rd-Largest Blaze on Record in California History, Burns 418 Square Miles

Thousands of residents in Santa Barbara County — including the Summerland and Montecito areas — faced mandatory evacuations Saturday as the Thomas Fire burned 267,500 acres, or about 418 square miles.

The blaze that started on Dec. 4 in Santa Paula was 40 percent contained Saturday evening, officials said.

It's now the third-largest fire on record in California and the seventh most destructive, according to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

With more than 8,000 firefighters battling the the blaze, it's the largest mobilization of crews fighting a wildfire in state history, authorities said.

Two deaths, including that of a firefighter, have been blamed on the Thomas Fire.

Some 16,000 people in Santa Barbara County were under mandatory evacuations Saturday while 34,000 were issued voluntary evacuation warnings, according to authorities.

“We’ve had a challenging day today," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said in a community meeting Saturday evening.

Brown said an accident involving a tanker truck Friday night blocked the northbound 101 Freeway.

On Saturday afternoon, an accident involving a smaller vehicle partially blocked the southbound 101 Freeway, Brown said.

In addition to the accidents, a 25-acre fire broke out off Drum Canyon Road. The sheriff said crews quickly made progress on that incident.

The following areas were under mandatory evacuation orders, according to an update from officials Saturday evening:

Santa Barbara County
City of Santa Barbara:
east of Highway 154 to Mission Canyon Road and north of Highway 192 to East Camino Cielo
Montecito and Summerland: south of Highway 192, north of Highway 101, west of Toro Canyon, east of Summit Road and Country Club
Montecito: north of Alameda Padre Serra/Highway 101, south of Highway 192, east of Mission Canyon Road and west of Hot Springs and Summit Road

Unincorporated areas of Fillmore
Sespe Creek to the west, Burson Ranch to the east, Fillmore city limits to the south and Los Padres National Forest boundary to the north

Ventura County's north coast area
Highway 150 between Santa Ana and Highway 192 (still under evacuation order with resident access

An evacuation center has been set up at University of California, Santa Barbara's recreational center at 516 Ocean Road.

Meanwhile, voluntary and mandatory evacuations in the city of Ventura were lifted, according to Cal Fire.

The next 24 hours will be crucial as wind gusts of up to 55 mph and low humidity were forecast through Sunday. Strong winds and dry conditions were expected to fuel the existing blaze and could spark new fires, CNN meteorologist Ivan Cabrera said.

The Thomas Fire has destroyed more than 1,000 structures, officials said, costing more than $110 million so far.

While weekend conditions will test firefighters, winds should ease late Sunday night into Monday, allowing for additional containment, forecasters said.

Two deaths linked to fires

Cory David Iverson, 32, lost his life battling the Thomas Fire on Thursday.

Iverson was a fire apparatus engineer from San Diego and had been a firefighter with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection -- also known as Cal Fire -- since 2009.

He drove a fire engine and was killed on the east flank of the Thomas Fire, Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said.

Iverson was with other crew members when he was killed, she said.

He leaves behind his 2-year-old daughter and a pregnant wife who's due this spring. His death is the first firefighter fatality in the most recent string of wildfires in California.

A woman was also killed in a car crash while evacuating last week, a death Cal Fire considered fire-related.

Celebrities thank firefighters for their efforts

On Saturday, some celebrities expressed appreciation to the firefighters battling the massive blaze.

Retired tennis player Jimmy Connors said earlier in the week that the Thomas Fire was threatening his home and thanked the firefighters. He reiterated that sentiment on Saturday.

"Fire once again raging in Santa Barbara," Connors tweeted. "firefighters r amazing- keep them safe!"

Oprah Winfrey, who has a home in Montecito and had tweeted about the fire several days before, added an update.

"Still praying for our little town," she said. "Winds picked up this morning creating a perfect storm of bad for firefighters. #peacebestill"

Actor Billy Baldwin tweeted his sentiments on Saturday.

"Say some prayers for these people and the brave firefighters," he wrote.