Expected windy weather could hamper fighting Southern California fire

By Ed Adamczyk  |  Dec. 15, 2017 at 8:32 AM
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Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Increasing weekend winds are expected to complicate battling a wildfire that has already consumed 250,000 acres in Southern California, fire officials said on Friday.

The Thomas Fire continues to threaten homes in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. With a two-day lull in the winds this week the fire was reduced to 35 percent containment, but expected wind gusts of up to 60 mph on Friday evening will create the potential for rapid spread of the fire, KSBY-TV, San Luis Obispo, reported. Humidity is expected to remain low, bringing elevated fire conditions to the mountains of Santa Barbara County.

The fire has already burned nearly 400 square miles and destroyed at least 900 homes since it began on Dec. 4. Thousands of residents have evacuated the area.

"Every day that goes by the fuels get drier and drier and drier," said Tim Chavez, a Cal Fire battalion chief and fire behavior analyst. "We have really bad weather coming. It is going to be a very challenging few days."

Chavez added that the mountains provoke unusual fire conditions, noting that observers saw flames shoot 50 feet in the air as they overtook a mountain on the border between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Stuart Seto, of the National Weather Service, told the Los Angeles Times that the winds in the mountains will "really start blowing the fire around again. What it does is carry the embers farther down and can create more fires."

At least two fatalities have been blamed on the fire. Virginia Pesola, 70, was found dead in her car last week after it was involved in an accident on an evacuation route from the burn area. The Ventura County medical examiner said she died of blunt force trauma with smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.

Apparatus engineer Cory Iverson, 32, died while fighting the fire on Thursday, Cal Fire announced. An investigation of his death is pending.

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