Los Angeles Fire Department Fire Arson Counter-Terrorism investigator Angel Alvarez checks a burned out homeless camp after a brush fire erupted in hills in Elysian Park in Los Angeles Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Flames threaten coastal California communities

Flames continue to threaten coastal communities as firefighters mourn

Thousands of firefighters tried Sunday to shield coastal communities from one of the biggest wildfires in California history while a funeral procession rolled past burn-scarred hillsides in honour of one of their colleagues who was killed battling the flames.

Crews cleared brush and dug containment lines above hillside neighbourhoods in Santa Barbara County, taking advantage of slightly calmer winds a day after gusts fanned a flare-up that prompted more evacuations.

“Everything’s holding really well,” fire information officer Lisa Cox said. “Thousands of homes have been saved.”

While gusts had eased somewhat, even lower intensity winds were still dangerous, she warned. The fire northwest of Los Angeles was 45 per cent contained.

Television news footage showed at least one structure burned on property in the wealthy enclave of Montecito, and authorities said damage assessments could take days.

Related: Firefighters protect seaside California towns as blaze rages

Mourners stood on freeway overpasses to pay respects to firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, who died Thursday of burns and smoke inhalation. His funeral procession was scheduled to wind through five Southern California counties before ending up at a funeral home in San Diego, where he was based with a state fire engine strike team. He is survived by his pregnant wife and a 2-year-old daughter.

The blaze is also blamed for the Dec. 6 death of a 70-year-old woman who died in a car crash on an evacuation route.

The fire that started nearly two weeks ago has burned more than 1,000 structures, including at least 750 homes. Some 18,000 more homes are still threatened.

Some evacuation orders were lifted to the east in Ventura County, where the blaze erupted, and officials reported making progress protecting the inland agricultural city of Fillmore.

Jim Holden returned to his neighbourhood in the city of Ventura to find his home still standing amid widespread destruction. He told KABC-TV that at the height of the inferno, when it appeared his house would be lost, firefighters risked their own safety to retrieve his belongings.

“They broke in and they saved my family photos,” Holden said, wiping away tears.

Mike and Dana Stoneking lost their Ventura home while many of their neighbours’ properties were spared. The Stonekings planned to rebuild and found some solace after retrieving Mike’s wedding ring from the ashes.

The 422-square-mile (1,093-sq. kilometre) blaze called the Thomas Fire crested a peak just north of Montecito, where evacuation orders remained in effect. Known for its star power, the enclave includes the mansions of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and many other celebrities.

“Still praying for our little town,” Winfrey tweeted. It was not clear if the former talk show host was in Montecito.

A portion of the city of Santa Barbara was also evacuated as a thick plume of smoke blew through city streets. At the city’s zoo, workers put some animals into crates and kennels to ready them for possible evacuation.

While crews on the fire lines got a break from slightly calmer winds, much of the rest of Southern California was buffeted by powerful gusts that once again increased the wildfire risk across the region. The National Weather Service forecast red flag conditions for extreme fire danger through Sunday evening for Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Trees came down after wind gusts topped 70 mph (113 kph) in mountain areas and 50 mph (80 kph) along the coast.

Everything about the fire has been massive, from the sheer scale of destruction that destroyed entire neighbourhoods to the legions of people attacking it. About 8,300 firefighters from nearly a dozen states battled the third largest wildfire in state history, aided by 78 bulldozers and 29 helicopters.

The cause remains under investigation. So far, firefighting costs have surpassed $117 million.

___

Christopher Weber, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department,fire engines provide structure protection at the historic San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a Bombardier 415 Super Scooper aircraft comes in for a water drop below East Camino Cielo in the hills above Montecito, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Just Posted

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan Bui (left) and Kairry Nguyen at the end of the trial that found Tanessa Nikirk guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Nikirk is back in court for her sentencing hearing. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATED: Court hears letter from driver convicted of hitting Saanich girl

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit in 2017

HarbourCats players celebrate winning the North Division Championship Series in 2019. (Christian J. Stewart/File Photo)
Victoria HarbourCats locked out of team Facebook page

Management hires legal team to solve issue

Victoria police are looking for high-risk offender Douglas McPherson. (Courtesy of VicPD)
UPDATED: Victoria police arrest high-risk parolee with history of bank robbery

Citizen alerts cops after spotting parolee on Pandora Avenue

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Victoria police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

Saanich implements single-lane traffic stretch on Prospect Lake Road along Clavert Park. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Saanich makes one-way traffic permanent on segment of Prospect Lake Road

Prospect Lake Road to close near Calvert Park Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. for construction

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

Freighter drags anchor towards Boulder Point Oct. 22. It came within 730 metres of the shore, according to maps from the Port of Nanaimo. (Photo submitted)
MacGregor introduces bill to address freighter anchorages along the South Coast

Concerns about the environment, noise, pollution and safety abundant

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Harvesters participating in the extended commercial halibut season will need to land their catch in either Prince Rupert (pictured), Vancouver, or Port Hardy by Dec. 14. (File photo)
B.C.’s commercial halibut season extended three weeks

COVID-19 market disruptions at the root of DFO’s decision

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

Most Read