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Flames threaten coastal communities as firefighters mourn

  • A Bombardier 415 Super Scooper makes a water drop on hot spots along the hillside in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Sunday. AP

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a pair of firefighting water dropping helicopters pass while working on hot spots along the hillside east of Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017. One of the largest wildfires in California history is now 40 percent contained but flames still threaten coastal communities as dry, gusty winds are predicted to continue. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP) Mike Eliason

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, firefighters standing guard and providing structure protection at a home off Gibraltar Road watch as a bucket full of water is dropped from a helicopter onto a hot spot nearby in Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017. The fire has burned more than 700 homes and currently threatens communities in Santa Barbara County. Some 8,000 firefighters are deployed to the so-called Thomas Fire, which has burned for... Mike Eliason

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane makes a water drop on hot spots along the hillside east of Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017. One of the largest wildfires in California history is now 40 percent contained but flames still threaten coastal communities as dry, gusty winds are predicted to continue.(Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP) Mike Eliason

  • In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a Bombardier 415 Super Scooper makes a water drop on hot spots along the hillside east of Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara, Calif., Sunday morning, Dec. 17, 2017. Wind gusts of up to 52 mph have been recorded in the area using a hand held weather device. The Office of Emergency Services announced the orders Saturday as Santa Ana winds pushed the fire close to the community. The mandatory evacuation zone is now 17 miles... Mike Eliason

  • In this Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames burn near power lines in Sycamore Canyon near West Mountain Drive in Montecito, Calif. One of the largest wildfires in California history is now 40 percent contained but flames still threaten coastal communities as dry, gusty winds are predicted to continue. Some 8,000 firefighters are deployed to the so-called Thomas Fire, which has burned for nearly two weeks and still threatens 18,000... Mike Eliason

  • A firefighter takes a cell phone picture during a wildfire Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Montecito, Calif. The so-called Thomas Fire is now the third-largest in California history. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) Chris Carlson

  • In this image taken from video provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, spot fires burn near power lines as heavy smoke fills the air from a wildfire in Santa Barbara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. The Thomas Fire is now the third-largest in California history. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP) Mike Eliason



Associated Press
Sunday, December 17, 2017

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 honor of one of their colleagues who was killed battling the flames.

Crews cleared brush and dug containment lines above hillside neighborhoods 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 40 percent 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.

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.

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 in mountain areas and 50 mph along the coast.

Everything about the fire has been massive, from the sheer scale of destruction that cremated entire neighborhoods 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.