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Powerful Winds Raise Fire Risk As Thomas Fire Battle Continues

Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP

In this Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames from a back firing operation underway rise behind a home off Ladera Ln near Bella Vista Drive in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP

UPDATE 2:33 p.m. 12/17/17: (AP) -  While crews got a break from slightly calmer winds on the lines of the enormous blaze threatening Santa Barbara County, much of the rest of Southern California was buffeted by powerful gusts that 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.

With winds threatening to bring down power lines and spark more wildfires, Southern California Edison is considering turning off electricity to some parts of Malibu. Utility spokesman Paul Griffo says the coastal city is particularly vulnerable if strong Santa Ana winds continue to batter the area.

UPDATE 9:40 a.m. 12/17/17: (AP) -  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.

Winds calmed overnight but seaside communities in Santa Barbara counties were warned again Sunday that they're still at risk if unpredictable gusts whip up once more.

Some 8,000 firefighters are deployed to the so-called Thomas Fire, which has burned for nearly two weeks and still threatens 18,000 homes. Parts of the city of Santa Barbara and the hillside enclaves of Montecito and Carpinteria remain under evacuation orders. However in neighboring Ventura County, where the fire started, officials lifted some evacuation orders early Sunday.

A funeral procession is planned Sunday for Cory Iverson, the 32-year-old firefighter killed Thursday while battling the flames.

UPDATE 7:31 p.m.: (AP) - Authorities say the massive wildfire northwest of Los Angeles has burned another 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) of vegetation and has burned 418 square miles (1,083 square kilometers) since it started 12 days ago.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement Saturday that the nearly 8,500 workers are fighting the so-called Thomas fire.

There were no new reports of damage to buildings.

The third largest fire in the state's history has destroyed more than 700 homes and killed a firefighter.

UPDATE 11:12 a.m.: (AP) -  Santa Barbara County has issued new evacuation orders as a huge wildfire bears down on Montecito and other communities.

The Office of Emergency Services announced the orders Saturday as winds pushed the fire close to the community, a wealthy enclave that's home to Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities.

The mandatory evacuation zone is now 17 miles long and up to 5 miles wide, extending from coastal mountains northwest of Los Angeles to the ocean.

Winds in the foothill area are hitting around 30 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph.

The fire has burned more than 700 homes since it began on Dec. 4.
One firefighter was killed Thursday battling the flames.

(AP) - Santa Ana winds are again driving an enormous wildfire that's now surging toward a wealthy community in the coastal mountains northwest of Los Angeles.

The Thomas Fire is burning toward Montecito, home to Oprah Winfrey and many other celebrities.

No new evacuations have been called but the National Weather Service says winds in the area are gusting at around 30 mph. State fire officials say the blaze is spreading rapidly west.

Saturday is the 13th day that the Weather Service has declared a red flag warning of extreme fire danger because of dry, gusty conditions.

The fire that began on Dec. 4 is already the third-largest in California history, exceeding the devastating 2013 Rim Fire in acreage.
It has destroyed more than 700 homes and killed a firefighter.

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