California is in the midst of an inferno.
More than 10 days after the Thomas fire sparked in Ventura County, the blaze grew to some 252,200 acres on Friday as more than 8,300 firefighters worked night and day to contain it. Neighboring counties have been engulfed in flames and the region is unlikely to see rain anytime soon.
All told, the fire is the fourth-largest in California history and has already cost the state’s firefighting agency, Cal Fire, nearly $89 million.
“This thing is 60 miles long and 40 miles wide,” Tim Chavez, a fire behavior analyst with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s a lot of fire out there.”
Officials estimate that the fire won’t be fully under control until early January, and despite progress made by wildlife officials in recent days, the fire is now about 35 percent contained. Red flag warnings have been issued for the weekend as troubling winds are expected to pick up once again.
“With an abundance of tinder dry vegetation avoid any activity with open flames or that may cause a spark,” Cal Fire warned on Twitter.
Despite the enormous presence of firefighters along the front lines of the blaze (including 158 fire crews, 1,012 fire engines, 32 helicopters and 78 bulldozers), damage and death have been inescapable.
Corey Iverson, a 32-year-old Cal Fire engineer, was killed battling the Thomas fire earlier this week. He was an 8-year veteran of the force and leaves behind a wife and 2-year-old daughter, with another child on the way.
“His bravery and years of committed service to the people of California will never be forgotten,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.
At least 728 homes have been destroyed, and 18,000 others are still under threat. California’s avocado and lemon industries ― the biggest in the United States ― have also been scorched, according to reports. Damage assessments will still take time as much of the region remains under evacuation orders and blanketed in haze, as HuffPost’s Matt Ferner saw when he traveled to the area this week and saw “smoke everywhere.”
“Firefighters were everywhere ― on almost every street, at the restaurant, the gas station ― loading up their trucks for the next fight,” he wrote from Ojai, surrounded by flames on three sides.
For many officials, the spate of wildfires once again underscores that fire season in California is now an all-year-round reality. As the Thomas fire burned, firefighters were working to contain five other major blazes that have since been contained.
Devastating fires in Northern California in October killed more than 40 people and caused at least $3 billion in insured losses as 14,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.
“The fire season used to be a few months in the summer, now it’s almost year-long,” Gov. Brown told “60 Minutes” last weekend. “These fires are unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like it. Scientists are telling us, ‘This is the kind of stuff that’s gonna happen.’ And we gotta deal with it.”