More than a month after the Thomas Fire took hold in California's Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, firefighters have reached 100 percent containment on the deadly blaze. The announcement Friday marks a hard-fought triumph over the wildfire, which earlier this month became the largest in modern state history.
The Thomas Fire has been blamed for two deaths and the destruction of more than 1,000 structures. Its historic toll in Southern California — more than 280,000 acres ravaged — also led to another deadly disaster: the mudslides this month in Santa Barbara County.
Burned barren by the fire, the hills in the area made easy prey for recent heavy rains, loosing rivers of mud that found little resistance from the scant vegetation that remained. At least 17 people died this week when the mud rushed into communities around Montecito.
Still, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Thomas Fire itself proved less destructive than other fires of similar scale in California, such as the wine country fires of last fall, or the 2003 Cedar Fire, which until this month held the record for the largest blaze since the state started keeping such data in 1932. The Cedar blaze claimed 15 lives and destroyed more than 2,800 structures, the paper reports.
"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," Cal Fire said Friday. "We would also like to thank the local and surrounding communities for their understanding and support during this time."
Authorities continue to warn of residual dangers from the Thomas Fire, however — especially new mudslides in the burned-out landscapes it has left behind.
"Wildfires exacerbate the potential for debris flow and are most likely to occur during high intensity rainfall," the state's firefighting service cautioned, suggesting the possibility of more mudslides to come. "Debris flows can be extremely dangerous."
As member station KCLU reports, "around-the-clock search efforts have continued to grow, with more than 1,200 people now involved."