Thomas wildfire burns above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in this social media photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department in Montecito, California, U.S. December 12, 2017. Courtesy Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via RE
LOS ANGELES - 14 December 2017: California firefighting crews may face strong winds on Thursday that could feed a volatile wildfire which has grown into one of the biggest in state history.
The so-called Thomas Fire overnight grew to the fourth-largest blaze of its kind on record, at 242,500 acres (98,140 hectares) burned, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in a statement on Thursday morning.
The fire grew larger than the Zaca Fire of 2007, which, like the Thomas Fire, struck Santa Barbara County. The Thomas Fire has also burned parts of neighboring Ventura County.
Cal Fire said on Thursday morning that the Thomas blaze was 30 percent contained, unchanged from Wednesday evening.
The fire threatened the communities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito early on Thursday after destroying more than 700 homes since it began on Dec. 4, fire officials said.
"Firefighters will remain engaged in structure defense operations and scout for opportunities to establish direct perimeter control," Cal Fire said on Wednesday evening, noting that the fire threatened 18,000 structures.
According to the National Weather Service's forecast for Southern California on Thursday, "critical fire weather conditions will persist" and very dry conditions will continue. High winds with gusts up to 55 miles per hour (89 km per hour) are possible, the service said.
Many public schools in the Santa Barbara area canceled classes this week and will not reopen until the annual winter break ends January.
Some of the other fires burning over the past week in San Diego and Los Angeles counties have largely been brought under control, officials said.