VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. — One week after the Thomas Fire exploded from a brush fire to a raging inferno, hundreds of firefighters are still struggling to contain it.
The blaze is larger than all of New York City and was only 15% contained as of Monday, according to the fire protection agency CAL FIRE.
But it’s only one of six major wildfires torching the state.
As the flames move on to new neighborhoods, some evacuated residents have returned to find no home standing.
David Karian used a hand rake to sift through the charred rubble of his elderly parents’ home in Ventura.
“There’s not much, but if there’s a few things that will help them have some connection to the past, then that what I’m trying to do,” he said. “That’s what it is … memories of a lot of years.”
Man loses 2 homes in wildfires
In just two months, Dr. Antonio Wong lost two houses in two separate California wildfires.
The anesthesiologist, his wife and his son barely had time to escape their Santa Rosa home before a wildfire engulfed it in October.
Weeks after Wong sifted through the charred remnants of that house, he learned that his other home in Ventura — which he was renting out to members of the military — burned down last week.
While those tenants are safe, “it was pretty devastating,” Wong said from Santa Rosa on Monday.
“I still haven’t processed the fire down there (in Ventura). I have so much to do to rebuild my house here (that) the thought of trying to rebuild a house down there at the same time is overwhelming. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Making history: At more than 230,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the Thomas Fire is now the fifth largest wildfire in modern California history.
Elevated conditions: Ferocious Santa Ana winds could gust between 40-55 mph on Monday before tapering, CNN meteorologist Rachel Aissen said. Ventura County and surrounding areas are under an elevated fire outlook, with temperatures remaining between 78-82 degrees as humidity continues to fall.
Warnings: A “red flag warning” for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties has been extended through Monday evening, the National Weather Service said. That means elevated fire weather conditions are expected due to gusty winds and low humidity.
Evacuations: Some 94,607 people were under mandatory evacuation orders in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties Sunday evening, Ventura County Sheriff Captain Garo Kuredjian told CNN.
Death toll: The death toll from the Thomas Fire stands at one. Authorities believe Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, died in a crash while fleeing the fire. Her body was found Wednesday.
The six blazes vary in size. Together, they are larger than the areas of New York City and Boston combined.
Thomas Fire: This inferno has destroyed 230,000 acres as of Monday morning and was only about 15% contained. It started December 4 in Ventura County and has since spread into neighboring Santa Barbara County. The Thomas fire has already destroyed 790 structures, Ventura County Sheriff Captain Garo Kuredjian told CNN. The costs of fighting the blaze have topped $34 million.
Creek Fire: The second-largest blaze ignited Tuesday in neighboring Los Angeles County. It has burned 15,619 acres and is 95% contained.
Rye Fire: This fire broke out Tuesday in Los Angeles County and has torched 6,049 acres. Firefighters are making progress, with 93% of the blaze contained.
Lilac Fire: This fast-moving fire has consumed 4,100 acres since it ignited Thursday in San Diego County. Firefighters have regained control of the blaze, and it’s now 80% contained.
Skirball Fire: It started Wednesday as a brush fire in Los Angeles County, north of Brentwood. The Skirball Fire has destroyed 422 acres and is 85% contained.
Liberty Fire: This blaze in Riverside County has burned 300 acres since it ignited Thursday. It’s 100% contained, but authorities are monitoring the fire because of a forecasted increase in winds.
Celebrities thank firefighters
Several celebrities with homes in the endangered region thanked firefighters for their brave efforts.
Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, who both have houses in Montecito, tweeted that they were praying for their communities.
“Our house is under threat of being burned. We just had to evacuate our pets. I’m praying for everyone in our community and thankful to all the incredible firefighters,” DeGeneres said. She later tweeted that she was proud to be part of a community where people were helping each other to safety.
Winfrey tweeted that her prayer as the fires raged was “peace be still.”
And retired tennis player Jimmy Connors said the Thomas Fire was also threatening his home and tweeted that firefighters were “working tirelessly.”
Firefighters from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington state have come to California help battle the blazes.
And the Nevada Department of Corrections and Nevada Division of Forestry, which run conservation camps for inmates, have sent six trained crews of minimum-security inmates to fight the Thomas Fire.