Southern California's Thomas Fire faces calmer winds, aggressive attack by fire crews

One of the biggest wildfires in California's history continued to threaten coastal communities Monday as fire crews hoped to take advantage of a two-day window of calmer winds before potentially dangerous gusts were expected to return mid-week.

Over 8,500 firefighters continue to battle the Thomas Fire in Southern California, which has burned for two weeks and killed one firefighter, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and threatened 18,000 more northwest of Los Angeles.

Firefighters on Sunday were able to take advantage of calmer winds to keep flames from the state's third-largest blaze mostly away from neighborhoods in the wealthy enclave of Montecito in Santa Barbara County.

In this Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames burn near power lines in Sycamore Canyon near West Mountain Drive in Montecito, Calif. One of the largest wildfires in California history is now 40 percent contained but flames still threaten coastal communities as dry, gusty winds are predicted to continue. Some 8,000 firefighters are deployed to the so-called Thomas Fire, which has burned for nearly two weeks and still threatens 18,000 homes. Swaths of Santa Barbara County remain under evacuation orders. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

In this Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames burn near power lines in Sycamore Canyon near West Mountain Drive in Montecito, Calif.  (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

“The fire’s burning in open country right now, which is away from homes, which is exactly where we want it,” Capt. Rick Crawford, a Cal Fire spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times.

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a Bombardier 415 Super Scooper makes a water drop on hot spots along the hillside east of Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017. Wind gusts of up to 52 mph have been recorded in the area using a hand held weather device. The Office of Emergency Services announced the orders Saturday as Santa Ana winds pushed the fire close to the community. The mandatory evacuation zone is now 17 miles long and up to 5 miles wide, extending from coastal mountains northwest of Los Angeles to the ocean. Winds in the foothill area are hitting around 30 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a Bombardier 415 Super Scooper makes a water drop on hot spots along the hillside east of Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017.  (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Crawford said cooler temperatures, slightly higher humidity and light winds forecast for Monday and Tuesday will be "critical" for firefighters hoping to make progress against the blaze. The hot, gusty winds that caused a huge flare-up and forced more evacuations over the weekend are expected to return on Wednesday.

Evacuation orders remain for large parts of Santa Barbara County, including the hillside communities of Montecito and Summerland, according to FOX 11.

SANTA ANA WINDS: WHAT ARE THEY?

The blaze has scorched 270,500 acres so far, an area larger than New York City and roughly the size of the Hawaiian island of Maui, and is roughly 45 percent contained.

The blaze crested a peak just north of Montecito, where evacuation orders remained in effect. Known for its star power, the enclave includes the mansions of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and many other celebrities.

Actor Rob Lowe offered his heartfelt thanks to the fire crews battling the blaze, even serving them dinner on Sunday.

Thank you to all the crews from all over the country who stood tall and saved my town. #respect #gratitude

A post shared by Rob Lowe (@robloweofficial) on

"Thank you to all the crews from all over the country who stood tall and saved my town," he posted on Instagram.

Dinner for new friends at our house.

A post shared by Rob Lowe (@robloweofficial) on

The scenes of celebration stood in contrast to that of the mourners who stood on freeway overpasses on Sunday to pay respects to firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, who died Thursday of burns and smoke inhalation. His funeral procession was scheduled to wind through five Southern California counties before ending up at a funeral home in San Diego, where he was based with a state fire engine strike team. He is survived by his pregnant wife and a 2-year-old daughter.

The Thomas Fire is also blamed for the Dec. 6 death of a 70-year-old woman who died in a car crash on an evacuation route.

THOMAS FIRE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA JOINS LIST OF DESTRUCTIVE BLAZES IN THE STATE

Some evacuation orders were lifted Sunday to the east in Ventura County, where the blaze erupted, and officials reported making progress protecting the inland agricultural city of Fillmore.

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew members from Ojai, Calif., head down a fire break to work off E. Camino Cielo in Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017. Thousands of firefighters tried Sunday to shield coastal communities from one of the biggest wildfires in California history while a funeral procession rolled past burn-scarred hillsides in honor of one of their colleagues who was killed battling the flames. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, U.S. Forest Service Hot Shot crew members from Ojai, Calif., head down a fire break to work off E. Camino Cielo in Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017.  (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

In the City of Ventura, Jim Holden returned to his neighborhood to find his home still standing amid widespread destruction. He told KABC-TV that at the height of the inferno, when it appeared his house would be lost, firefighters risked their own safety to retrieve his belongings.

"They broke in and they saved my family photos," Holden said, wiping away tears.

The cause of the Thomas Fire remains under investigation. So far, firefighting costs have surpassed $117 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travfed