Southern California’s largest and most destructive wildfire burning in the region exploded in size on Sunday into new areas, as the whip-whipped flames forced thousands of more residents to flee their homes.
The so-called Thomas fire had burned about 230,000 acres by Sunday evening, making it the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Authorities say fire containment dropped from 15 percent to 10 percent.
Overall, the fires have destroyed about 800 homes and other buildings, killed dozens of horses and forced more than 200,000 people to flee since Dec. 4.
The Thomas fire grew by more than 50,000 acres on Sunday, The Times added, forcing another 5,000 evacuations.
“Some places the smoke is going straight up in the air, and others it’s blowing sideways. Depends on what canyon we’re in,” Mike Eliason, the Santa Barbara County fire spokesman, said. “The winds are kind of squirrely right now.”
Thousands of homes and businesses in the county were without power.
Officials handed out masks to residents who stayed behind in Montecito, the wealthy hillside enclave that’s home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Rob Lowe.
“Our house is under threat of being burned,” Ellen DeGeneres tweeted at midday Sunday. “We just had to evacuate our pets. I’m praying for everyone in our community and thankful to all the incredible firefighters.”
A few miles to the west, Santa Barbara Zoo was closed to the public. Workers there gave shelter to the zoo’s 500 animals.
Firefighters made significant progress Saturday on other fronts of the enormous fire that started Dec. 4 in neighboring Ventura County. As containment increased on other major blazes in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties, resources from those fires were diverted to the Santa Barbara foothills.
Forecasters said Santa Ana winds that whipped fires across the region last week would continue in some areas at least through Monday.
A lack of rain has officials on edge statewide because of parched conditions and no end in sight to the typical fire season.
“This is the new normal,” Gov. Jerry Brown warned Saturday after surveying damage from the deadly Ventura fire. “We’re about ready to have firefighting at Christmas. This is very odd and unusual.”
Overall, the fires have destroyed about 800 homes and other buildings, killed dozens of horses and forced more than 200,000 people to flee flames that have burned over 270 square miles since Dec. 4. One death, so far, a 70-year-old woman who crashed her car on an evacuation route, is attributed to the fire in Santa Paula, a small city where the fire began.
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