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.

 

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

Wet’suwet’en clan launches civil lawsuit against Coastal GasLink

Gidimt’en seeking damages and costs over destruction of logging road encampment and gate

“Does Kirby care?” Heiltsuk Nation using geo-targeted ads in Houston, Texas for justice

The Heiltsuk Tribal Council has called out Kirby Corporation for the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill

“No excuse” for killing of two young grizzly cubs

Reader hopeful someone will come forward with information

UPDATE: U.S. firm fined $2.9M for fuel spill that soiled B.C. First Nation territory

The Nathan E. Stewart spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016

VIDEO: Missing teens named as suspects in three northern B.C. killings

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are wanted in the deaths of Lucas Fowler, Chynna Deese, unknown man

B.C. teacher suspended for professional misconduct

Grade 8 shop teacher admits to use of vulgar language and profanities toward students

Northern B.C. double homicide, suspicious death: A timeline of what we know

Two teens from Port Alberni are now wanted Canada-wide in connection to the three deaths

B.C. wine industry legend Harry McWatters dies

Among his accomplishments, McWatters founded the province’s first estate winery, Sumac Ridge Estate

Provincial health body refuses to release full findings of cancer triage system audit

Information and Privacy Commissioner asked to review redactions

Southern resident killer whale died of blunt trauma, likely from ship

J34 was found more than two years ago near Sechelt, but the necropsy findings have now been released

B.C. rail crossing death highlights risks for people in wheelchairs: watchdog

Transportation Safety Board points to ‘persistent risks faced by persons using assistive devices’

B.C. teens wanted in double homicide, suspicious death spotted in Manitoba

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were thought to have been seen in the Gillam area

Memorial bench painted by Vancouver woman to stay in park for now

Park board to look at options for artistic enhancements on commemorative benches

Most Read