Officials are anticipating that the massive Thomas Fire burning in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties won't reach full containment until Jan. 7 — more than a month after it was sparked, Cal Fire said Friday.
The wildfire has grown to the fourth largest in the state's history and had smothered 256,000 acres of the California coast as of Friday evening, or about 400 square miles, the state fire agency reported. It has been 35 percent contained since Thursday night.
More than 8,300 firefighters remained on the front lines and were promised a difficult battle amid another morning of blistering Santa Ana winds. Crews were also in mourning after a Cal Fire engineer who worked in San Diego was killed while combatting the blaze near Fillmore Thursday afternoon.
A red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service for the region expired at 10 a.m. Friday. A red flag warning will be in effect for Santa Barbara County mountains and adjacent foothills of the south coast from 2 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. The resurging winds may cause extreme fire behavior and rapid spread, the weather agency said.
The winds will also migrate north and place many Bay Area communities under the same warnings from 10 p.m. Friday through 10 a.m. Sunday, officials said.
Red flag warnings were first issued for Southern California on Dec. 2, making this the longest stretch of such advisories since NWS began tracking them in 2004.
With the fire burning in rugged terrain and dry conditions predicted to persist through the end of the month, it was unclear how much relief the lack of winds towards the end of the weekend would bring.
In Santa Barbara County, where 41,200 residents remain evacuated, firefighters were still focusing on protecting homes and pushing the flames away from the communities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito. Additional evacuations could be ordered if the blaze continues to advance west, Cal Fire warned.
Crews were also working near Fillmore, in Ventura County, to improve the containment line there after new evacuations had been ordered Thursday. The fire's northern boundary above Ojai was also a priority.
Across both counties, around 18,000 were still under threat, firefighters said.
So far, well over 900 buildings have been lost in the wildfire — making it the eight most destructive in California history, according to Cal Fire. More than 730 of those structures were homes.
— VCFD PIO (@VCFD_PIO) December 15, 2017
Gusty north-northeast winds will likely affect portions of SBA South Coast (especially canyons and foothills) late tonight into Saturday evening. Potential impacts on lower elevations of #ThomasFire. #SBAWeather
— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) December 15, 2017
— mark s ghilarducci (@CalOES_Dir) December 15, 2017
— Santa Barbara County (@countyofsb) December 15, 2017