The final California wildfire of the year, Thomas Fire has been decimating much of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties since early December, 2017. In terms of acreage, this final inferno is the largest in the history of the state. In terms of how the fire has spread and behaved, many veterans claim they’ve never seen anything like it. All up and down the state this season, battling one devastating blaze after another, California has just suffered one of the most destructive fires in its history. The Thomas fire has reached the top of the list of history’s most destructive fires to ever chew through California. Consider some statistics showing the toll the Thomas fire has taken thus far:
- More than 1,000 structures have been torched. The fire has charred in excess of 281,000 acres, an area roughly 1.6 times the size of New York City.
- Cost estimates in dealing with the blaze have already exceeded $130 million.
- Almost 8,500 firefighters have struggled to contain the blaze, making use of 116 engines, 26 helicopters, and 19 bulldozers.
- The Thomas fire has claimed the life of one firefighter and is also blamed for two civilian deaths.
GRAND FINALE Hopefully this fire will be the final installment of the worst fire season California has ever experienced. Officials are now confident that the worst is over, but 100% containment isn’t expected until late January. Many who have been in the wildfire business for decades claim they haven’t ever seen anything nearly as ferocious as the Thomas fire. Last winter brought a tremendous amount of precipitation that soaked the vegetation and spurred growth. Immediately following on the heels of that wet winter was one of the driest and hottest summers on record, essentially baking all of that lush greenery into firewood. Bring in the stiff and persistent Santa Ana winds, unusually strong and sustained, and it created a recipe for the firestorm with which Southern California is now contending. There are other factors in play, of course. Human development seeps further and further into fire-prone areas, and since 90% of all fires are started by human activity, we can pretty well guess how future fire seasons will go. THE WORST SEASON Unfortunately, the new pattern for the American West is to deal with these monster fires burning more intensely and more frequently. The Thomas fire dominated news headlines throughout December, following fires that ripped through Sonoma and the Wine Country taking dozens of lives and costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Fire crews, apparatus, and resources will continue to be stretched in the years to come as all these conditions converge, season after season, each with the potential to outdo the one before. And it’s highly likely that climate change, the great unknown, will only serve to further exacerbate these fire-prone conditions.