Firefighters battling inferno ‘have never seen anything like this’
In his 24 years as a firefighter in Ventura County, Antonio Negrete has never seen a wildfire grow as quickly and with such intensity as the Thomas fire. He said he’s also never seen so many resources or personnel dedicated to fighting such a massive blaze.
“A lot of guys around here would tell you the same thing,” Negrete said at the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Monday. “We’ve been firefighters for decades and have never seen anything like this.”
Officials are using a reprieve in the winds over the next two days to set new backfires and build fire lines that they hope will halt the fire from advancing when the Santa Ana winds return Wednesday. But the conditions are setting the stage for a long fight, with officials saying they don’t expect containment until January.
The wildfire had grown to 270,000 acres and spurred 104,607 people to flee their homes, authorities said. More than 8,500 firefighters have battled the blaze, one of the largest mobilization of crews to fight any wildfire in California history. The firefight has cost $130 million.
It’s now the third-largest fire in California history.
In his 28-year career as a firefighter, Capt. Rick Crawford with the Los Angeles Fire Department said he’s battled extreme fires. But that the Thomas fire stands out as one of the — if not the — fiercest wildfire he’s encountered.
“It took the Zaca fire [in 2007] eight weeks to consume over 240,000 acres. It only took the Thomas Fire one week before it surpassed that,” Negrete said. “I’ve never been part of a brush fire like this in December.”
Negrete had also been fighting wildfires in Northern California in October. He didn’t think he’d see those firefighters so soon.
“I told them I’d see them next year. I didn’t think I’d be seeing them in two months,” Negrete said.
“Just because you don’t see the flames doesn’t mean there’s no threat,” Crawford added. “We might be at a lull but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent.”
One surprising aspect that he said separates the Thomas Fire from others is how the red flag conditions have lasted for two weeks.
“Usually Santa Ana winds last two days. Having 14 days of erratic winds is unprecedented,” he said.
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