The Thomas wildfire burns above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in this social media photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department in Montecito, California, on December 12 2017. Picture: MIKE ELIASON/SANTA BARBARA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT VIA REUTERS
The Thomas wildfire burns above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in this social media photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department in Montecito, California, on December 12 2017. Picture: MIKE ELIASON/SANTA BARBARA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT VIA REUTERS

Los Angeles — Strong winds powering California’s third-largest wildfire were expected on Sunday to keep driving the inferno that has burned 267,500 acres.

Nearly 8,500 firefighters are battling the Thomas fire in southern California, which began on December 4 and has destroyed more than 1,000 structures and threatened 18,000 more including homes in the wealthy town of Montecito just outside the coastal city of Santa Barbara.

While the winds were expected to ease on Sunday near Santa Barbara, northeast wind gusts up to 88km/h were forecast through Sunday for parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, National Weather Service forecasters said.

The blaze, centred less than 160km northwest of downtown Los Angeles, has forced evacuations that turned neighbourhoods into ghost towns and filled the air with smoke.

The fire is 40% contained, despite hot Santa Ana winds that have powered its expansion, at times sending embers far ahead of its main flank.

Firefighters were using more than 970 fire engines and 34 helicopters to battle the blaze.

"It is a beast," Santa Barbara County fire department division chief Martin Johnson told reporters on Saturday. "But we will kill it."

Five of the 20 most destructive fires in California’s recorded history ravaged the state in 2017, according to Cal Fire.

The Thomas fire, the seventh-most destructive on record in the state, forced many schools to close for days, shut roads and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson died on Thursday while battling the flames near the Ventura County community of Fillmore, the Ventura County medical examiner’s office said.

Reuters

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