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Thomas fire becomes largest wildfire on record in California

LOS ANGELES — The Thomas fire on Friday became California’s largest wildfire on record, burning 273,400 acres.

The fire eclipsed the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, which burned 273,246 acres.

The milestone reaffirmed 2017 as the most destructive fire season on record in the state. In October, a series of fires in wine country burned more than 10,000 homes and killed more than 40 people. Those blazes, along with the Thomas fire, were fueled by dry conditions and intense winds.

Despite its size, the Thomas fire has been less destructive than either the wine country fires or the Cedar fire, which destroyed 2,820 structures and killed 15 people. The Thomas fire has destroyed more than 1,000 structures and has been associated with one death.

The inferno has claimed just over 1,000 structures since it started on Dec. 4, and San Diego fire engineer Cory Iverson died fighting the fire last week.

The fire consumed tens of thousands of acres a day in its first week but is now nibbling up vegetation at a relatively slow pace — 288 acres on Wednesday, 770 on Thursday.

Any new growth on the fire will likely be due to controlled burns by firefighters.

“The main fire itself will not have any growth,” said Capt. Brandon Vaccaro of the California City Fire Department. “Any growth that we see or is reflected in the acreage will be based on the control burns.”

Firefighters set the speed of the burn, he said, using bulldozers, fire engines and hand tools. A train of personnel moves along setting the fire making sure no fire jumps the control line or gets out of hand, Vaccaro said.

The improving conditions allowed officials to lift many evacuation orders on Thursday.

Depending on wind and weather conditions, firefighters plan to start a controlled burn with hopes that winds from the north will push the flames away from the highway and south toward the main body of the fire.

The burn operation could scorch up to 20,000 acres before it connects with the larger blaze, officials said.

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