271,000-Acre Thomas Fire, 50 Percent Contained, Still on Course to Become California’s Largest Wildfire on Record

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A wildfire that has devastated swaths of Southern California could become the largest wildfire in the state's modern history, but authorities had "good news" on Monday night, saying the Thomas Fire is 50 percent contained.

Firefighters watch flames as the Thomas Fire approaches homes on December 12, 2017 in Montecito, California. (Credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

Firefighters watch flames as the Thomas Fire approaches homes on December 12, 2017 in Montecito, California. (Credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

The Thomas Fire, the biggest of a number of blazes in California, is currently the state's third largest since reliable records began in 1932, with 271,000 acres burned as of Monday night. The largest, the 2003 Cedar Fire, destroyed 273,246 acres.

Authorities said Monday evening they do expect the Thomas Fire, with current planed containment lines, to continue to grow beyond the size of the Cedar Fire.

The Thomas Fire also is currently the third-most destructive in structure loss, with more than 1,000 buildings burned, according to Cal Fire.

The huge blaze, which has burned for two weeks without respite, has affected over 100,000 Californians, many of whom have been forced to flee their homes, either through mandatory or voluntary evacuations -- with no guarantee that they will have anything left when they return.

According to an update released by Cal Fire, 18,000 structures are still threatened as the Thomas Fire blazes on.

But on Monday, firefighters had a "very productive day" thanks to improved weather conditions: diminished winds and increased humidity. The blaze was not as aggressive as it had been, authorities said, and hot spots in Santa Barbara were extinguished. The fire line in Fillmore, in Ventura County, is holding, they said.

Cal Fire spokesman Bill Murphy said the increased containment -- up to 50 percent from 45 percent -- was "good news."

While thousands of residents threatened by the blaze remain under evacuation, others have been allowed back in their homes -- or, at least, what was left of them. More evacuation orders were lifted Monday.

The fire is so massive that more than 8,400 firefighters are working around the clock to save lives and contain it. At more than 423 square miles, it's bigger in acreage than the area covered by New York City, and has turned neighborhoods to piles of soot and concrete as it churns through the area.

The latest

• Improving weather conditions: Winds should die down and stay that way through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) Los Angeles. However, northerly winds are expected to pick back up Wednesday evening, and Santa Ana winds are possible Thursday into the weekend.

• Long-awaited rain: Trace amounts of rain were observed with the frontal passage in Van Nuys, Burbank, Lancaster, Palmdale, and Los Angeles International Airport, says CNN's Pedram Javaheri.

• Hefty price tag: About $110 million has been spent fighting the massive blaze, fire officials said. This year has been the costliest for wildfires in US history. Damage has topped $10 billion -- and that was before the current fires began in Southern California.

• Multiple casualties: A total of two people, including one firefighter, have been killed since the fires started.

Funeral procession

A funeral procession passing through five counties Sunday carried the remains of firefighter Cory David Iverson, 32, who died in the blaze. The procession began in Ventura and passed through Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties before arriving at at a funeral home in San Diego.

Iverson, from Escondido, leaves behind his pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter.

Iverson died Thursday of thermal injuries and smoke inhalation, according to the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office.

"He was the best fireman you could hope to have on your team," Cal Fire spokesman Jon Heggie told the Los Angeles Times.

Displaced resident: '100 ft flames all around us'

Jeannette Frescas told CNN affiliate KEYT that she was awakened by towering flames when the fire reached her neighborhood in Ventura, California.

"I looked out my window and there were flames that were like, a hundred feet, all around us," Frescas said.

Like many residents, Frescas was caught off guard by the fire.

"What was once a paradise was like a war zone," Frescas said of her apartment complex, which was destroyed by the blaze. "It's the scariest thing I've been through in my entire life."

Ventura resident Patricia Rye woke up to her son-in-law pounding on her door. She didn't get a chance to pack any valuables, and fled her home of 17 years in the dead of the night.

"I didn't have time to take anything," Rye told the station. "My wallet, or any of my personal things. I literally left with the clothes on my back."

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