Fire engineer dies as California’s Thomas Fire keeps burning
High winds and dry conditions continue to hamper efforts to contain California’s massive Thomas Fire, with few signs of improvement heading into the weekend.
While most recent wildfires in southern California are at or near containment, the Thomas Fire was 35% contained by Thursday night, covering 249,500 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, officials with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CalFire, said in a Thursday night news conference.
The blaze has grown rapidly, killing a firefighter on Thursday. Cory Iverson, 32, was a fire apparatus engineer from San Diego.
Santa Ana winds will continue on Friday and into Saturday and Sunday, said Rich Thompson with the National Weather Service. A red flag warning is in effect for Ventura County until 10 a.m. local time on Friday, and a fire weather watch is in effect through the weekend. Winds are expected to reach up to 30 miles per hour on mountain ridgetops.
“It’s gonna be a very challenging few days,” fire behavior analyst Tim Chavez said Thursday night.
Mandatory evacuation ordered
Ventura County has ordered a mandatory evacuation of a swathe of the county, which lies to the northwest of Los Angeles.
The mandatory evacuation area covers Sespe Creek to the west, Burson Ranch to the east, the Los Padres Forest boundary to the north and the city limit of Fillmore to the south, a tweet from the county fire department says.
An advisory for northeastern parts of Filmore City — from Second Street north on Island View, west on Fourth Street to A Street, north to Goodenough Road and Levee — is in effect.
Honoring a fallen firefighter
A procession was held on highway 126 in Fillmore Thursday afternoon in honor of the fallen firefighter. The procession brought Iverson from the scene to the medical examiner’s office.
Iverson drove a fire engine and was killed on the east flank of the Thomas Fire, CalFire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said. Iverson was with a strike team of two or three other crew members when he was killed, she said. He was pronounced dead on scene, she said.
He leaves behind a wife and a two-year-old daughter. Iverson and his wife were expecting a second daughter this spring.
Iverson’s death was the first firefighter fatality in the recent string of fires burning in southern California.
Communities under threat
One of six major wildfires burning in Southern California, the Thomas Fire is already the fourth largest in California history, CalFire said. Nearly 1,000 fire engines and 27 helicopters are involved in battling the Thomas Fire alone, the agency said.
One other death has been connected to the Thomas Fire: a woman who was killed in a car crash while evacuating last week. Tolmachoff said CalFire considers her death to be fire-related.
Fire threatened the communities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito, according to CalFire. Crews worked to build fire lines north of those areas.
The Thomas fire broke out December 4 in Ojai, northwest of Los Angeles. Aided by the strong Santa Ana winds, it quickly spread to the city of Ventura, according to the federal InciWeb fire information website.
At least 95,000 residents have been evacuated in Southern California, CalFire said.
More than 1,000 structures have been damaged or destroyed in the Thomas Fire, and another 18,000 structures are threatened, CalFire said. The cause is under investigation.