Thomas Fire in Southern CA becomes 5th largest in state history; 230,000 acres and growing

The Thomas Fire of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in Southern California has now become (as of Sunday Night) the 5th largest fire in California State history. And based on trends and fire weather expected, it may go for the state record (273,246 acres).  After winds decreased somewhat Friday afternoon-Saturday, they picked up again on Sunday, causing extreme fire growth to an incredible 50,000 acres and reducing the containment from 15% to 10%.

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Growth of Thomas Fire since last Tuesday’s ignition.
Since the fire developed last early-morning Tuesday, it has exhibited extreme fire behavior in intense Santa Ana winds with gusts of 45-80 mph, fanning flames and, more importantly, embers far downwind of the actual fire. Currently, 790 structures have been destroyed with the evacuation of over 88,000 people. A 70 year old woman died after being overtaken by the fire following suffering severe injuries in a car crash. In San Diego County, another woman was badly burned over 50% of her body in the Lilac Fire while helping horses escape from a thoroughbred training facility.  And speaking of horses…46 horses were confirmed killed at San Luis Rey Downs where the trainer was badly injured. The death toll will likely rise among the horses as 450 horses were there when the fire rapidly struck. Many burned to death refusing to leave their stables or running back into them, while others died from shock even after initially safely away from the fire’s path. Meanwhile, another 29 horses suffered a similar fate at a ranch in Los Angeles County’s Creek Fire.

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Dry or low precipitation conditions expected in mid-range computer models (this forecast depiction by the Global Forecast System; GFS) for much the Southwest US and Great Plains through December 20th.

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Forecast upper-atmospheric wave pattern valid noon CST Monday by the GFS. Powerful ridge of high pressure over the West will continue dry, very abnormally mild conditions while colder weather remains over the eastern US.
Unfortunately, high fire danger will continue through Monday with gusts over 45 mph allowing the Thomas Fire and any other fires which develop to easily spread and do so rapidly. Conditions should relax Monday night before possible re-intensification on Tuesday. As mentioned, the Thomas Fire may reach record territory tomorrow based on trends. And as of now, NO significant measurable rainfall is expected in California (or much of the Southwest US and Great Plains) the next 10 days. A blocking upper-atmospheric high pressure pattern over the Eastern Pacific will certainly allow for intensification of drought conditions and continued dryness and moderate to high fire danger for days to come. I should also note, fire danger will also be elevated on parts of the High Plains. Much of Eastern Colorado into Western Kansas are under red flag warnings for Monday because of expected elevated breezy conditions and low humidity with dry fuels.

—Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

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Author: Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

Meteorologist and geoscientist in Lincoln, NE. Seattle, WA native. Love weather, storm chasing/photography and planetary science.

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