A respite from powerful winds has allowed firefighters to reach 50% containment of southern California’s enormous wildfire, but officials warned that potentially dangerous gusts would return.
Crews taking advantage of calm conditions were performing a controlled burn to remove areas of dry brush along the fire’s northern edge.
“We’re going to take a lot of that fuel out of there,” fire Captain Rick Crawford said. “That way when the winds come back there’ll be nothing left to burn.”
Residents near the city of Ojai could see new smoke from the controlled burn, Capt Crawford said.
Hot gusty winds that caused a huge flare-up and forced more evacuations last weekend are expected to whip up again on Wednesday.
The fire north-west of Los Angeles has spread to about 423 square miles, making it the third biggest in the state since accurate records were started in 1932.
The largest, the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County, burned about 427 square miles.
Officials estimate that the Thomas Fire will grow to become the biggest in Californian history before full containment, which is expected by January 7.
Some evacuations were lifted on Monday, and Capt Crawford said more residents are being allowed to return on Tuesday.
However he cautioned that hillside homes are still threatened near the city of Santa Barbara, where firefighters mounted an aggressive air attack on stubborn flames.
The fire churning through brush in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has burned more than 1,000 structures, including at least 750 homes.
Firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, died on December 14 of burns and smoke inhalation while battling the flames. The blaze is also blamed for the December 6 death of a 70-year-old woman in a car crash on an evacuation route.
More than 8,000 firefighters from nearly a dozen states are battling the blaze.
The cause remains under investigation. So far, firefighting costs have surpassed $130m (€110m).