By Phoenix Tso
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Reuters) – Crews battling a massive wind-driven California wildfire that has torched nearly 1,000 buildings and charred 230,500 acres braced on Monday to protect communities menaced by flames along the state’s scenic coastline.
The Thomas Fire ignited a week ago and is burning in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
“Severe fire weather will continue to promote significant fire growth” into Santa Barbara County and threaten the communities of Montecito and Summerland, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)said in a Monday morning update.
Santa Ana winds and the rugged mountainous terrain have hindered firefighters as they battle the blaze, which has destroyed 981 houses, outbuildings and other structures and left 90,000 homes and businesses without power.
“A lot of these guys (firefighters) have fought a lot of fires in the past few months and are fatigued,” said Fire Captain Steve Concialdi, spokesman for the Thomas Fire, on Sunday.
Concialdi said firefighters from 11 Western states are aiding firefighting efforts.
The fire as of Monday morning was 15 percent contained, up from 10 percent on Sunday night. It was at 15 percent contained Saturday. The Thomas Fire grew on Sunday by 56,000 acres in one day and making a run of 7 miles, Concialdi said.
Nearly 6,397 firefighting personnel are working on the blaze, Cal Fire said. The cost of fighting the fire as of Monday morning was more than $38 million, the agency added. It is already the fifth-largest wildfire on record in California.
“Extreme fire behavior will continue to hamper control efforts,” Cal Fire said on Monday morning.
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, final exams set for this week have been postponed, Chancellor Henry Yang said in a letter to the campus community.
Some of the other fires burning over the past week in San Diego and Los Angeles counties have been largely controlled by the thousands of firefighters on the ground this week.
Both the Creek and Rye fires in Los Angeles County were 95 and 93 percent contained, respectively, by Monday morning, officials said, while the Skirball Fire in the posh Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles was 85 percent contained.
North of San Diego, the 4,100-acre (1,660 hectare) Lilac Fire was 80 percent contained by Monday morning.
(Reporting by Phoenix Tso; Additional reporting by Mike Blake in San Diego, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Keith Coffman in Denver, and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Writing by Joseph Ax and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Graff and Andrew Hay)