A sprawling Southern California wildfire that has been burning through rugged, drought-parched coastal terrain since December 4 has become the largest on record in the state, state fire officials said on Friday.
On Friday, the blaze had scorched 427 square miles (273400 acres) of coastal foothills and national forest, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The inferno has claimed just over 1,000 structures since it started December 4, and San Diego fire engineer Cory Iverson died fighting the fire last week.
By Thursday, most of the southern end of the fire also was surrounded and the last mandatory evacuation orders were called off. Civilian Virginia Rae Pesola, 70, died in her auto on Wheeler Canyon Road while trying to escape the fire on December 6. Iverson, who was stationed out of San Diego, has local ties to the Mother Lode, as back in 2015 he was based at the Columbia Air Attack and drove a Heli-tender truck.
The Thomas fire continues to creep closer to becoming the California's largest wildfire on record, but its days of destroying homes and menacing communities appear to be over.
Despite its size, the Thomas fire has been less destructive than either the wine country fires or the Cedar fire, which destroyed 2,820 structures and killed 15 people. Easing winds and lower temperatures have allowed workers to contain over 65 percent of the fire, and almost all of the mandatory evacuations in Santa Barbara County and Ventura County have been lifted.
By Friday, however, humidity was higher, temperatures were cooler and the fire threat to homes in many areas eased. Fifteen people died in the Cedar fire.
The so-called Thomas Fire could very well still grow to become the biggest wildfire in California history, but as a gentle giant, not a raging beast. At least two deaths, including one firefighter, have been attributed to the Thomas Fire.