International News

California wildfire rages, threatens communities

Crews battling a massive wind-driven California wildfire that has torched nearly 1,000 buildings and charred an area larger than New York City on Monday struggled to protect communities menaced by flames along the state’s scenic coastline.
The Thomas Fire ignited a week ago and has burned 230,500 acres 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 or damaged 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.
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 made a run of 7 miles, Concialdi said.
Nearly 6,397 firefighting personnel from 11 states 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.
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, speaking by phone on Monday, said winds have calmed a bit, keeping the fire in the hills outside of the city. The lack of strong winds on Monday means the fire was not spreading quickly, but it also is not clearing out smoke.
“Everywhere you go, you see people wearing the masks,” said Schneider.
A layer of ash is also gathering over the city, she said.
The mayor said public schools in Santa Barbara and some school systems nearby have cancelled classes this week and will not reconvene until the annual winter break is completed in January.
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, final exams set for this week have been postponed until January, school officials said.
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 neighbourhood 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.