SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The Latest on wildfires in California (all times local):
Officials say the massive wildfire that California has been battling since early December is now the third-largest in the state's history, with 259,000 acres (405 square miles) burned so far and the flames only 40 percent contained.
In terms of acreage consumed, the fire that started on Dec. 4 now exceeds the devastating Rim Fire in 2013 by 2,000 acres.
Steve Concialdi of the Orange County Fire Authority says the region has had "red flag" conditions for an unprecedented 13 consecutive days. Red flag conditions are when low relative humidity is combined with gusty, strong winds.
Concialdi said, "As of this morning, we're at 259,000 acres and still growing."
The fourth-largest wildfire in California history continues to grow and threaten thousands of homes despite armies of fire crews and fleets of bulldozers and aircraft.
The blaze northwest of Los Angeles grew by 3,000 acres overnight and although Santa Ana winds eased on Friday, they are expected to return with a vengeance over the weekend. And the fire is so large that winds on one end may be gustier than those on the other side.
The 11-day-old Thomas fire surging through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had devoured some 400 square miles of brush and timber and burned more than 1,000 buildings, including well over 750 homes.
It also claimed the life of a firefighter Thursday.
Another 18,000 buildings are still in jeopardy, including mansions in the wealthy enclave of Montecito.
The fire is only 35 percent surrounded despite efforts by some 8,000 firefighters, 32 helicopters and 78 bulldozers.