Firefighters struggle to contain Thomas Fire

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Firefighters struggle to contain Thomas FireAbsence of significant rainfall, continuing low humidity, historically high tree mortality, rugged terrain and high winds have all contributed to the massive spread of the Thomas Fire — which at press time was on the brink of becoming the largest in state recorded history.

By Thursday the blaze had swallowed up more than 272,000 acres along the coast. But that number was holding steady at last reports — leaving the Thomas Fire just shy of 2003’s Cedar Fire, which burned more than 273,000 acres, claimed 15 lives and destroyed 2,820 structures. Based on the most reliable records, these two remain California’s largest wildfires on record.

Meanwhile, firefighters continue to work around the clock to maintain the scope of the fire — a particularly challenging goal in light of the powerful winds that have facilitated the spread of the fire.

When this edition went to press, containment was estimated at 60 percent, with fire officials speculating that full containment would not be achieved until January.

The Thomas Fire has claimed at least two lives, including one civilian who was attempting to escape and San Diego Firefighter Cory Iverson, who was succumbed to smoke inhalation and burns while battling the blaze.

Among the estimated 8,500 personnel from federal, state and regional agencies joining the call to the front lines are personnel from China Lake and Kern County fire departments.

“With about 120 fire department personnel deployed, [Kern County Fire Department] is not only being ‘good neighbors, but also gaining valuable experience that they bring back to Kern County and use to better serve its citizens,” said a press release circulated last week by the department.

Firefighters, along with dozers, mechanics and other resources, have been deployed to assist not only the Thomas, but also the Lilac and Creek fires.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The cost of containment was estimated at $125 million, and rising, at press time.

Pictured: The Thomas Fire engulfs residential neighborhoods and wildlands, while leaving heavy plumes of smoke over hundreds of square miles on and near the California coast. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2017-12-22