Firefighters battle to save communities from epic California fire

FILE PHOTO: A firefighter knocks down hotspots to slow the spread of the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Lakeport, California, U.S. July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves/File Photo

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling the second-largest wildfire ever recorded in California fought on Monday to keep flames from descending a ridge into foothill communities, as reinforcements arrived from as far away as Alaska.

The Mendocino Complex Fire, made up of two separate conflagrations that merged at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, had burned 273,664 acres (110,748 hectares) as of Monday morning and was still growing, on track to potentially become the largest in state history.

“Unfortunately, they’re not going to get a break anytime soon,” National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Hurley said of firefighters who had cut buffer lines around 30 percent of the blaze as of Monday. “It’s pretty doggone hot and dry, and it’s going to stay that way.”

Hurley said some temperatures could reach 110 degrees (43 Celsius) in Northern California over the next few days with 15-mile-per-hour (24 kph) winds fanning the flames. Environmentalists and some politicians say the uptick in the intensity of the state’s wildfire season may be linked in part to climate change.

The Mendocino Complex, which has destroyed 75 homes and forced thousands to flee, is the largest of eight major wildfires burning out of control across California, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday to declare a “major disaster” in the state.

“California wildfires are being magnified made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

A total of nearly 3,000 people were fighting the flames, including firefighters from Arizona, Washington, and Alaska.

Some 200 soldiers from the 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, have also been called in to help in one of the most destructive fire seasons on record.

On Sunday, 140 fire managers and specialists from Australia and New Zealand underwent special training and were outfitted with safety gear at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise before being deployed to battle fires in the Pacific Northwest and California.

Crews battling the Mendocino Complex on Monday were focusing on keeping flames from breaking through fire lines on a ridge above the foothill communities of Nice, Lucerne, Glen Haven, and Clearlake Oaks, said Tricia Austin of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“If it were to be carried outside of those lines they have on the ridge, it could sweep down into those communities, that’s what we’re trying to prevent,” Austin said.

Elsewhere in California, the two-week-old Carr Fire on Saturday claimed the life of 21-year-old apprentice lineman Jay Ayeta, who died when his vehicle crashed as he worked with crews in dangerous terrain in Shasta County, according to PG&E corporation.

He was the seventh person killed in that blaze, which has scorched more than 160,000 acres (64,750 hectares) in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jonathan Allen in New York, Laura Zuckerman in Pinedale, Wyoming and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)

Wildfire burns in Portugal for fourth day, 1,150 firefighters mobilize

A helicopter drops water on a fire near small village of Monchique, Portugal August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) – More than 1,150 firefighters struggled to put out a fire in Portugal’s southern Algarve tourist region on Monday, which injured 25 people overnight and led to the evacuation of homes and hotels.

The fire, which started on Friday, grew over the weekend during a heatwave sweeping large parts of Europe.

A car passes next to a fire near small village of Monchique, Portugal August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

A car passes next to a fire near small village of Monchique, Portugal August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Temperatures have started to fall from the peak of nearly 47 degrees Celsius, but it remains very hot in most of the country. Emergency services added a further 350 firefighters to combat the flames overnight.

Twenty four people were treated for light burns and smoke inhalation while one person suffered more serious burns.

People were evacuated from the area but Joao Furtado, 60, was forced to hide in a water tank to escape the flames as his house burned down, according to his sister-in-law.

“He was panicking because he was trapped in the house,” said Maria Helena Furtado. “There was fire everywhere and he couldn’t get out.”

Civil protection authorities said smoke was making it difficult for firefighting planes to access the area but nine helicopters were flying. There were 350 fire engines involved in the effort.

The fire is burning in the hills above the Algarve coast, an area popular with tourists for its hot springs. The smoke could be seen from the coast.

Antonio Monteiro, head of the Caldas de Monchique Spa Resort, one of the region’s best known hotels, said: “We had to evacuate all hotel guests and we don’t have any information about when we will reopen.”

Another hotel in the region, the Macdonald, was also shut.

Portugal’s biggest wildfire killed 114 people last year and it has since reinforced emergency services in the center of the country where the worst fires usually break out.

Until last week Portugal’s summer had been unusually cold and wet.

(Writing by Axel Bugge; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Crews battling deadly California wildfire slowed by returning winds

A DC-10 air tanker drops fire retardant along the crest of a hill to protect the two bulldozers below that were cutting fire lines at the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Crews battling a deadly wildfire in northern California faced a resurgence of gusty winds on Thursday, hampering progress they were making this week to keep the blaze from spreading further.

The 11-day-old Carr Fire, which has scorched nearly 127,000 acres (54,000 hectares) in the scenic Shasta-Trinity region north of Sacramento, remains the largest and most fearsome of 18 significant wildfires burning across California and more than 100 nationwide.

Wind-driven flames roll over a hill towards homes during the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Wind-driven flames roll over a hill towards homes during the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) near Lakeport, California, U.S. August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

After three days of light winds that had helped firefighters make significant headway, a “red flag” warning for heightened fire danger was posted on Thursday, citing increasing winds in the forecast through Saturday.

Strong gusts began kicking up again on Wednesday night across upper ridge lines of the fire’s mountainous western flank, where the blaze, sparked by a vehicle malfunction on July 23, was still burning largely unchecked.

Those gusts were slowing efforts in the steep, rugged terrain to carve out buffer zones in front of the fire’s leading edge, said Gabriel Lauderdale, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

With high winds expected to worsen, throwing hot embers over containment lines, “we could continue to see those conditions pose difficulty for us into the night-time hours,” he told Reuters by telephone. A CalFire status update issued hours later said that “low relative humidity and an unstable atmosphere have increased fire behavior.”

The blaze, stoked by drought-parched vegetation and triple-digit temperatures, has killed six people and reduced 1,555 structures to smoldering ruins, including 10,600 homes. It ranks as the sixth most destructive California wildfire on record.

Firefighters rest between fire engines during a break from fighting the Ranch Fire and the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Firefighters rest between fire engines during a break from fighting the Ranch Fire and the River Fire (Mendocino Complex) in Upper Lake, California, U.S. August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Firefighters were fighting to keep flames from spilling over a ridge dividing Shasta and Trinity counties. Failure to hold that line would put the evacuated town of Lewiston, just 3 miles to the west, in harm’s way, said Lauderdale at CalFire.

Over 4,300 personnel assigned to the blaze have carved containment lines around 37 percent of the perimeter of the blaze.

Lauderdale said 24,285 residents remained displaced as of Thursday morning – down from a peak of 38,000 – but the number was dwindling as more residents were allowed to return.

Scott McLean, another CalFire spokesman, said roughly 40,000 people were under evacuation orders statewide, many from a pair of fires burning close together at the southern end of the Mendocino National Forest.

More than 100 large wildfires were burning across 13 Western states, having consumed more than 1.4 million (582,000 hectares), according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

An estimated 27,000 firefighters have been deployed throughout the West, with California alone accounting for 13,000 of them, CalFire director Ken Pimlott said this week. Many of the fire personnel were being sent from out of state.

On Thursday, a special contingent of 100 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand took off from Sydney en route to U.S. assignments reinforcing exhausted fire crews in northern California, Oregon and Washington state.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Grant McCool & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Calmer winds bring hope in battle against deadly California blaze

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

By Bob Strong

REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) – Some 3,600 firefighters struggling against one of the most destructive wildfires in California’s history hoped calmer winds on Tuesday would allow them to make more progress in carving out buffers to contain the blaze.

Six people have been confirmed killed and seven others have been missing since last Thursday. More than 800 homes and 300 other buildings have been reduced to ash and 37,000 people forced to evacuate as the Carr fire consumed 104,000 acres (42,000 hectares) in and around the town of Redding.

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Todd Abercrombie, of Cal Fire watches the fire behavior as firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Todd Abercrombie, of Cal Fire watches the fire behavior as firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

The firefighters reported some progress on Monday, having carved buffer lines around 23 percent of the fire’s perimeter, up from just 5 percent during much of the past week, thanks to calmer winds expected to remain in the area for two days.

The blaze, so far the seventh most destructive in Californian history, roared without warning into Redding and adjacent communities last week after being whipped by gale-force winds into a firestorm that jumped the Sacramento River.

It is the biggest of 17 wildfires now raging across the state, fueled by drought-parched vegetation, triple-digit temperatures, and unpredictable winds.

Two firefighters and at least four civilians were killed, including two young children and their great-grandmother who perished while huddled under a wet blanket.

Whole neighborhoods, including the town of Keswick on the outskirts of Redding, were laid to waste as residents fled for their lives in a chaotic evacuation. On Monday authorities began allowing some to return home, though an estimated 37,000 people still remained under mandatory evacuation orders.

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

Jul 30, 2018; Redding, CA, USA; Firefighters monitor fire movement as it crosses Highway 299 just west of Buckhorn Summit near the Trinity County line. Firefighters made progress on the fire which is now at 20 percent containment. Kelly Jordan via USA TODAY NETWORK

To the southwest, the River and Ranch wildfires, known as the 23,000-acre Mendocino Complex, has forced thousands to evacuate as it has threatened 10,000 homes. About 2,000 firefighters are battling the blazes about 150 miles (240 km)north of San Francisco, where it has destroyed seven homes since it began on Friday, fire officials said.

Collectively, wildfires that have burned mostly in the U.S. West have scorched 4.6 million acres so far this year, 24 percent more than the average of burned landscape tallied for the same period over the past decade, according to federal data.

Authorities in California have reported levels of fire intensity and unpredictability they have seldom seen before. Statewide, wildfires have charred nearly 410,000 acres since January, the highest year-to-date total for the end of July in a decade, according to CalFire.

 

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Fast-spreading California wildfire nears Yosemite park

The Sierra Hotshots, from the Sierra National Forest, are responding on the front lines of the Ferguson Fire in Yosemite in this US Forest Service photo from California, U.S. released on social media on July 22, 2018. Courtesy USDA/US Forest Service, Sierrra Hotshots/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A raging California mountain blaze that has already killed one firefighter grew over the weekend and bore down on Yosemite National Park, prompting the closure of some smoke-choked campgrounds and roads at the popular tourist destination.

The so-called Ferguson Fire, which started on July 13 in the Sierra National Forest, grew by more than 10 percent in size over the weekend, sending smoke billowing for miles (km) and causing air quality alerts for parts of the San Joaquin Valley, officials said on Sunday.

“Air quality and visibility have been severely affected by smoke. Visitors should expect limited visibility and should be prepared to limit outdoor activities during periods of high concentration,” Yosemite National Park said on its Twitter feed over the weekend.

Parts of the Ferguson Fire were about 20 miles to 30 miles (30-50 km) south and southwest of the park as of Sunday. Nearly 3,000 firefighters were battling the blaze that has burned through nearly 30,500 acres (12,340 hectares) of bone-dry terrain and was 6 percent contained as of Sunday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Crews have been struggling to build fire lines around the blaze because flames are burning in steep canyons that are difficult to access with heavy equipment.

Firefighter Braden Varney was killed shortly after the fire broke out when a bulldozer he was using to cut a fire break overturned. Varney was the 10th U.S. wildland firefighter to die in the line of duty this year, according to National Interagency Fire Center data.

The fire is one of about 50 major wildfires burning in the United States over the weekend that have so far scorched an area of about 1.2 million acres (485,620 hectares). Most are in western states with blazes also in Central Texas and Wisconsin, according to the InciWeb tracking service.

As of July 22, wildfires had burned through about 3.65 million acres (1,477,100 hectares) so far this year, above the 10-year average for the same calendar period of 3.43 million acres (1,388,070 hectares), according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler)

One dead, two firefighters hurt battling wildfires in U.S. West

Flames and smoke rise from a treeline in Mariposa County, California, U.S., July 17, 2018 in this still image taken from a social media video obtained July 18, 2018. INSTAGRAM/@JSTETTS/via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A tractor operator was killed while trying to clear brush around a massive wildfire in central Oregon and two firefighters were injured battling a blaze burning at the edge of Yosemite in California, officials in the two states said on Wednesday.

Crews responding to a report of a charred tractor near the 36,000-acre (14,600-hectare) Substation Fire burning near The Dalles, Oregon, found the unidentified driver nearby, Wasco County Sheriff’s officials said on the department’s Facebook page.

“It appears the tractor operator died as a result of exposure to the fire,” the sheriff’s office said, asking for the public’s help in identifying the victim.

In California, one firefighter broke a leg, requiring hospitalization, and a second was treated for heat-related illness, after fighting the so-called Ferguson Fire burning on the western boundary of Yosemite, said Richard Egan of the U.S. Forest Service.

The United States is facing an unusually active wildfire year, with some 3.3 million acres (1.3 million hectares) already charred this year, more than the year-to-date average of about 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) over the past decade.

The California injuries came as crews made a major push to cut containment lines around the conflagration before thunderstorms forecast for this week further whip up the flames.

“These next 48 hours are going to be pretty critical for us in terms of containing the fire,” Egan said, adding that lightning strikes could touch off new hot spots.

The blaze has blackened more than 17,300 acres (7,000 hectares) of forest in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, prompting the closure of State Route 140 and a Yosemite park entrance.

Fire managers have issued evacuation orders or advisories for the mountain communities of Jerseydale, Mariposa Pines, Clearing House and Incline.

Complicating firefighting efforts was an inversion layer of thick black smoke, visible for miles, that has prevented water-dropping aircraft from flying into narrow canyons.

That inversion layer, an atmospheric condition that prevents the warmer air and smoke from rising, was expected to partly clear on Wednesday evening as the storm approached, allowing aircraft to make runs at the fire, Egan said.

Firefighter Braden Varney was killed on Saturday when a bulldozer he was using to cut a fire break overturned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Varney was the 10th U.S. wildland firefighter to die in the line of duty this year, according to National Interagency Fire Center data.

California has had its worst start to the fire season in a decade, with more than 220,421 acres (89,200 hectares) blackened and six major wildfires burning statewide as of Wednesday.

In Oregon, where the Substation Fire has burned since Tuesday, Governor Kate Brown declared an emergency, prompting authorities to issue evacuation orders for communities along the Deschutes River.

The risk of large wildfires is set to ease in much of the Southwest and Rocky Mountains because of expected summer rains, but remains high in California through October.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

Fireworks blasts kill at least 24 near Mexico City

A firefighter talks to a resident at a site damaged due to fireworks explosions in the municipality of Tultepec, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Two explosions at fireworks workshops outside Mexico City on Thursday killed at least 24 people, including rescue workers, and injured dozens more, officials said, in the latest deadly blast to hit a town known for its fireworks production.

After a first blast in the municipality of Tultepec, firefighters, police and other rescue workers arrived at the scene when a second explosion occurred, the state government said in a statement.

“Emergency crews attended the call of the first explosion, when a second incident occurred, killing and injuring members of these groups,” the statement said.

Television images showed a plume of smoke rising over buildings on the outskirts of Tultepec and scores of firefighters and rescue workers at the scene.

The attorney general’s office for the state of Mexico, the country’s most populous state which rings the capital, said that 17 people had died at the blast site and another seven died in hospital.

Another 49 people were injured, the statement added.

A series of blasts have taken occurred at the fireworks markets, workshops and depots in Tultepec, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Mexico City, including massive explosions in a market in December 2016 that killed around three dozen people.

Luis Felipe Puente, the head of Mexico’s civil protection agency, said the sale of fireworks in the area would be suspended and permits of manufacturers would be reviewed.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Noe Torres; Editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang)

Gazans send fire-starting kites into Israel; minister threatens lethal response

By Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi

ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER (Reuters) – Palestinians are sending kites dangling coal embers or burning rags across the Gaza border to set fire to farmland and forests, in a new tactic that an Israeli minister said should be countered with “targeted assassinations”.

Palestinians prepare to fly a kite loaded with flammable material to be thrown at the Israeli side, near the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip, June 4, 2018. Picture taken June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

At least 120 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during mass demonstrations along the Gaza border since March 30 and the men sending the kites over the fence believe they have found an effective new weapon.

“It began spontaneously. We never thought we would achieve such good results,” said Shadi, one of five Palestinian teenagers preparing kites with fabric dipped in diesel and lubricant oil in a Gaza field.

“The idea is simple: use the simplest tools to cause damage and losses on the Occupation (Israel),” said Shadi, 19, wearing a “V for Vendetta” mask favored by protesters in many parts of the world and who, like the others, declined to give his last name.

No one has been hurt by the fires, but some 2,250 acres (910 hectares) of fields and nature reserves, already parched after a dry winter, have been burned by flames stoked by Mediterranean winds, causing $2.5 million in damage, Israel’s government said.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Israeli snipers should shoot the kite flyers.

“I expect the IDF (Israeli army) to handle these kite-flyers exactly as they would any terrorist, and the IDF’s targeted assassinations must also apply to these kite-flyers.”

Palestinians prepare kites loaded with flammable material to be thrown at the Israeli side, near the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip, June 4, 2018. Picture taken June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Israel has drafted in civilian drone enthusiasts as army reservists, instructing them to fly their remote-controlled aircraft into the kites, an Israeli general said.

“If their drone ends up getting lost in the process, we compensate them,” he told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The army has also fitted larger surveillance drones with weighted fishing lines or blades that can snag or slash kite strings in mid-air, the general said.

But he acknowledged the limitations of such measures, saying: “We’ll probably end up having to shoot kite-flyers too.”

Daniel Ben-David, a forestry official for Israel’s quasi-governmental Jewish National Fund, said some kites had been decorated with swastikas or the Palestinian national colors, but more recently were made of transparent nylon sheeting.

Some had leaflets attached. “Prepare for a scorching summer,” read one, in Hebrew.

In Gaza, kite-maker Shadi said his group had never used swastikas on their kites. He confirmed that transparent plastic was the best material as it made the kites almost invisible against the sky.

Even if the protests wind down, he and others will continue to send the kites – some of which carry the photos of Palestinians killed in the demonstrations – he said.

“Each kite costs us 10 shekels ($2.80). We pay it for it out of our own pockets,” Shadi said.

A senior White House envoy, Jason Greenblatt, described the kites as “not harmless playthings or metaphors for freedom (but) propaganda and indiscriminate weapons”.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy)

Three injured in fire atop N.Y.’s Trump Tower, officials say

New York Fire Department crew respond after a fire broke out at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. January 8, 2018.

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Three people were injured in an early-morning fire at the top of Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, the New York Fire Department said on Monday, as the city’s workday rush began.

U.S. President Donald Trump was in Washington at the time. Trump’s primary residence was in the building before his election victory and inauguration nearly a year ago.

One firefighter was hospitalized with nonlife-threatening injuries, while two people received minor injuries that were treated at the scene, including a building worker whose injury was initially described as serious, the Fire Department said.

Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, said on Twitter that it was a small electrical fire in the cooling tower on the building’s roof.

A smoke is seen rising from the roof of Trump Tower.

A smoke is seen rising from the roof of Trump Tower.
TWITTER/@NYCBMD

“The New York Fire Department was here within minutes and did an incredible job,” said the younger Trump. “The men and women of the #FDNY are true heros and deserve our most sincere thanks and praise!”

The Fire Department said the fire was not inside the building, but on top of it.

“We had flames coming out of the vents. No smoke condition or fire was on the inside,” Manhattan Borough Commander Assistant Chief Roger Sakowich said on Twitter.

The cause of the blaze is being investigated by the city fire marshal, a department spokesman said.

Once the investigation is complete, the results will be released, the spokesman, Firefighter Jim Long, said.

As firefighters battled the blaze, a plume of smoke spewed from the roof of the 68-story structure.

The fire was reported by phone shortly before 7 a.m. EST (noon GMT) on the top floor of the building, and was declared under control about an hour and 15 minutes later, the department said.

Some 84 firefighters and medical crews responded as 26 emergency units with lights flashing converged on the crowded midtown Manhattan location, it added.

In addition to the president’s 66th-floor penthouse, Trump Tower houses the headquarters of the Trump Organization as well as other residences, offices and stores.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)

California wildfire crews gain edge as last evacuation orders lifted

Firefighters keep watch on the Thomas wildfire in the hills and canyons outside Montecito, California, U.S., December 16, 2017.

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling to subdue the remnants of a sprawling Southern California wildfire gained more ground on Thursday after a resurgence of winds proved weaker than expected, allowing officials to lift all remaining evacuation orders and warnings.

The so-called Thomas fire, California’s second-largest on record, has charred 272,600 acres (110,317 hectares) of coastal mountains, foothills and canyons across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties northwest of Los Angeles, fire officials said.

The fire’s spread was largely halted this week as crews extended safety buffer lines around most of its perimeter, hacking away thick chaparral and brush before it could ignite and torching some vegetation in controlled-burning operations.

Containment of the fire grew to 65 percent on Thursday, up from 60 percent a day earlier.

Much of the progress was made during three days in which diminished winds, cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels allowed firefighters to go on the attack against a blaze that had kept them on the defensive for the better part of two weeks.

A new bout of strong winds had been forecast to accelerate to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) on Thursday morning, stoking extreme fire conditions again, but turned out to be less forceful than expected, authorities said.

“We didn’t really see the winds that were predicted,” said Brandon Vaccaro, a spokesman for the firefighting command. Containment lines already carved around populated areas “held really well,” he said.

More than 1,000 homes and other structures were destroyed and well over 100,000 people were forced to flee their dwellings at the height of the fire storm, but abandoned communities were gradually reopened to residents this week.

On Thursday, authorities canceled the last evacuation notices still in effect for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Only one fatality directly related to the fire has been reported, a firefighter who succumbed to burns and smoke inhalation in the line of duty last Thursday.

As the fire threat waned, the number of personnel assigned to fight the blaze has been scaled back to about 4,700, down from 8,500 at the fire’s peak.

In terms of burned landscape, the Thomas fire ranks a close second to California’s largest wildfire on record, the 2003 Cedar blaze in San Diego County, which consumed 273,246 acres (110,579 hectares) and killed 15 people.

The Thomas fire erupted Dec. 4 and was fanned by hot, dry Santa Ana winds blowing with rare hurricane force from the eastern deserts, spreading flames across miles of Southern California’s rugged, drought-parched coastal terrain.

Forecasts called for a return of mild Santa Ana gusts late on Thursday, “but it shouldn’t be anything that really challenges us,” Vaccaro said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has estimated the cost of fighting the blaze at more than $167 million. The cause has not been determined.

The Thomas fire came two months after a spate of wind-driven blazes in Northern California’s wine country incinerated several thousand homes and killed more than 40 people, ranking as the deadliest rash of wildfires, and one of the most destructive, in state history.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)