California wildfire 2017: Calmer winds help firefighters battle blaze

Firefighters knock down wildfire flames as they advance on homes atop Shepherd Mesa Road in Carpinteria. (REUTERS/Mike Eliason)

The strong winds that have been a factor in the continued spread of the massive wildfire in southern California have started to calm down, helping firefighters gain much-needed progress in containing the blaze.

The Thomas Fire, which has ravaged over 270,000 acres of land along the Pacific Coast north of Los Angeles, is now 45 percent contained, according to authorities. More than 8,500 firefighters are battling the enormous fire with the help of 970 fire engines and 34 helicopters.

The fire has been burning for two weeks, and it has continued to spread over a large area despite the best efforts from California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Conditions were aggravated for the firemen by strong gusts of winds that recently affected the area and helped spread the wildfire.

Winds affecting the area were “enough to almost push you over,” according to Bakersfield Fire Department Captain Tim Ortiz.

With the winds starting to calm down, firefighters are seeing more favorable conditions to contain the fire. Officials say that Sunday was the most productive day so far in their effort to battle the blaze. “We’re just hoping to make it home for Christmas,” said Ortiz from a Santa Barbara recreation center, which serves as the base camp for over 3,000 firemen.

The Thomas fire started on Dec. 4 near Ventura County, California. Since then, it has grown to become the third largest fire in California’s modern history. Over $110 million have been spent in fighting the massive wildfire, a cost that is still expected to rise as the effort continues.

More than 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes and flee from the fire, which has already destroyed over a thousand structures and is still threatening 18,000 others, including the wealthy town of Montecito outside Santa Barbara.

One firefighter, 32-year old Cory Iverson, died Thursday while fighting the blaze near Fillmore in Ventura County. According to authorities, Iverson died of smoke inhalation and burns.