Thomas Fire the Largest Wildfire in California History

Thomas Fire the Largest Wildfire in California History title=
Thomas Fire the Largest Wildfire in California History
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(Thomas Fire on Dec 7, 2017 on the Highway 33 corridor / Photo: Mark Gerwe USFS)

The Thomas Fire is now the largest wildfire in California's history as it reaches 273,400 acres and continues to grow. 

The blaze surpassed the size of the Cedar Fire near San Diego, which destroyed 273,246 acres in 2003, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Cal Fire compiled a list of the state's biggest fires since 1932. The 2007 Zaca fire in Santa Barbara County was the fifth largest fire at 240,207 acres. This makes two of the state's top five largest fires occurring in Santa Barbara County. 

Thomas Fire Progression Map as of 12/23/17 (Click on the map for a larger image)

The Thomas Fire began on December 4 fueled by strong Santa Ana and sundowner winds in Ventura County.  While it's the largest fire in California history, it's currently the third-most destructive in structure losses, with 1,063 buildings burned, according to Cal Fire.

As of Saturday (December 23) morning, the fire is only 65% contained. Fire crews have been working diligently and have announced the front country perimeter is now secure. Mop up operations along the fire perimeter and active patrol is ongoing, but firefighters and aircraft remain available to address flare-ups or new starts in the area.

Favorable weather conditions have helped firefighters and air quality in the past days. A higher humidity and cooler temperatures have decreased the threat of new fires as authorities lifted all mandatory evacuations for Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. However, the area has not received over .10 inches of rain since February and none is expected in the coming weeks.

About $180 million has been spent fighting the Thomas Fire, plus this year has been the costliest for wildfires in US history. Damages have topped $10 billion, and that was before the current fires began in Southern California.

The Thomas Fire has burned an area larger than New York City, Washington, DC, and San Francisco combined -- and larger than any city in California except Los Angeles. Last week the LA Times put together a map showing how big the Thomas Fire was compared to U.S. cities. When the fire was at 249,500 acres it stretched from Malibu to Pasadena. Add about 24,000 more acres to that map for today's current size. 

One firefighter, 32-year-old Cory Iverson from the San Diego unit of Cal Fire, was killed on December 14 while fighting the fire near Fillmore in Ventura County. Three other firefighters were injured and one woman was killed during a vehicle collision while fleeing during the evacuation. 

Currently, there are 2,500 fire personnel working on the fire, which is down from approximately 6,000 just last week. Full containment is expected on January 7, 2018.


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CivilEngineer Dec 26, 2017 09:03 AM
Thomas Fire the Largest Wildfire in California History

Plus it is not the largest fire in California if you count the 30,000 acres that were burned in Nevada as part of the now 3rd largest fire only within CA boundaries. It seems weird to discount this extra acreage in a contiguous fire just because of some arbitrary geopolitical line drawn on a map.

jqb Dec 26, 2017 10:34 AM
Thomas Fire the Largest Wildfire in California History

It's not at all weird to exclude areas OUTSIDE of California when comparing fires IN California. If you disregard arbitrary geopolitical lines on the map, then the very concept of "in California" disappears.

nic7320 Dec 23, 2017 02:28 PM
Thomas Fire the Largest Wildfire in California History

Although large according to California records, much larger fires in North America put this into perspective; In 2014, a fire in the Northwest Territories of Canada burned 8,400,000 acres. In 1989, a Manitoba fire burned 8,105,000 acres. In 1919, a fire in Alberta & Saskatchewan burned 5,000,000 acres. in 1825, a 3,000,000 acre fire in New Brunswick killed 160 people. In 1871, a 1,200,000 acre fire in Wisconsin killed 1700 people, and another burned 2,500,000 acres in Michigan . Both events were overshadowed by the Great Chicago fire that killed over 120 people. Thanks to our firefighters and modern fire science, they have significantly reduced the size of fires and deaths.

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