A firefighter was killed on Thursday while battling a mammoth California wildfire as crews sought to protect coastal cities and towns in the path of flames that have destroyed more than 700 homes.
The flag-draped remains of fallen firefighter, Cory Iverson, were driven out of the fire zone in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, in a hearse as his comrades saluted from roadsides and overpasses.
“Right now, there really is a fear in the community. We're very used to fire, but the magnitude of this one is something that we haven't seen,” Monique Limon, a state assemblywoman whose districts includes parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, told Reuters.
Fire officials released little information about the circumstances surrounding Iverson's death while fighting the so-called Thomas Fire, now the fourth-largest wildfire on record in California since 1932.
The Los Angeles Daily News reported that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection engineer perished in an accident near the community of Fillmore, where a mayday alert was sounded.
The Thomas Fire, which erupted on 4 December near a small private college in Ojai, has since blackened more than 242,000 acres.
The conflagration advanced again overnight to surpass the Zaca Fire, which struck Santa Barbara County in 2007, charring 240,000 acres.
The Thomas Fire, which was 30 percent contained as of Thursday afternoon, has burned 729 homes to the ground and damaged another 175. The blaze has displaced more than 94,000 people.
The wildfire remained a threat to some 18,000 homes and other structures in the communities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito along California's scenic coastline, especially if hot, dry Santa Ana winds return.
Red-flag warnings, issued for extreme fire weather conditions in the area, were extended through Friday morning.
Many public schools in the Santa Barbara area cancelled classes this week and will not reopen until the annual winter break ends in January.
Some of the other fires burning over the past week in San Diego and Los Angeles counties have largely been brought under control.
Investigators determined that the Skirball Fire, which destroyed six homes in Los Angeles' wealthy Bel-Air neighbourhood and scorched a building at a winery owned by billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, was started by a cooking fire at a homeless encampment, the Los Angeles Fire Department said earlier this week.
The Lilac Fire, which burned more than 4,000 acres (1,620 hectares) in northern San Diego County and destroyed 157 structures, was 97 percent contained as of Thursday, Cal Fire said.
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