CALIFORNIA – After more than a month of destruction, the largest fire in California’s modern history is now 100% contained, according to the US Forest Service.
The Thomas Fire ignited on December 4 and has burned about 281,900 acres since then, sending wide swaths of Southern California up in flames. That size is the equivalent of more than Dallas and Miami combined.
The cause of the fire remains unknown. However it started, the fire was fueled by strong Santa Ana winds and by the overall lack of precipitation this fall and winter, turning the brush, tall grass and chaparral in the area into fuels, according to the Forest Service.
In all, the Thomas Fire destroyed 1,063 structures and damaged another 280, according to the Forest Service. Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Cory Iverson, a 32-year-old firefighter with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, died last month while battling the Thomas Fire.
At one point, more than 2,800 firefighters were working to contain the fire. About $177 million was spent fighting the fire as of December 24, according to Cal Fire.
“Los Padres National Forest would like to thank all the first responders and cooperators that responded to this incident over the last month and giving up the opportunity to spend the holidays with their families and the sacrifices they made,” the Forest Service said in a statement Friday.
“We would also like to thank the local and surrounding communities for their understanding and support during this time.”
The Thomas Fire put a cap on what was the costliest year for wildfires in US history, with $10 billion in damage.
The wildfire’s devastation also contributed to this week’s mudslides in the Montecito area that killed 17 people and destroyed dozens of homes.
Usually, vegetation helps absorb the rain as it hits the ground. But because the Thomas Fire consumed so much brush and shrubs across the region, the circumstances were ripe for mudslides.
“All these hills normally have a protective cover of chaparral,” said Tom Fayram, Santa Barbara’s deputy director of public works. “That’s all gone. Almost 100% gone.”