Officials lift most California wildfire evacuations
VENTURA — The worst appears to be over for a massive wildfire that plagued a wide swath of the Southern California coast for 2 1/2 weeks.
All but a tiny handful of evacuation orders for the fire were called off by Thursday. At its peak, the fire drove about 100,000 people from their homes. Now only a remote wilderness valley is under an evacuation order.
The so-called Thomas Fire could very well still grow to become the biggest wildfire in California history, but it would do so as a gentle giant, not a raging beast. The blaze was 65 percent contained and has burned about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers) making it the second-largest in California's history.
Warnings of high fire risk were canceled for Santa Barbara County, although they remained in effect elsewhere in Southern California due to Santa Ana winds, low humidity levels and extremely dry vegetation.
The only visible flame was on the northern side of the fire where controlled burns set by firefighters to clear combustible material were being conducted in wilderness, said fire information officer Brandon Vaccaro.
About 18,000 homes and other buildings were still listed as threatened. Even when there's no sign of flame or smoke, fires can rekindle.
The Thomas Fire, which began Dec. 4, is responsible for two deaths and has destroyed at least 750 homes.
Days of fierce, often erratic gusts combined with extremely dry weather pushed the blaze with incredible speed as it moved through Ventura County's agricultural Santa Clara Valley, into the city of Ventura and then moved northwestward, threatening the coastal communities of Santa Barbara County.