VENTURA, California. – The largest forest fire on record in California, it was declared that on Friday, days after the mud on the coastal mountain slopes burned down, crashed onto houses during a storm, killing at least 18 people.
The Thomas fire was declared 100 percent surrounded after the devastating Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to the northwest of Los Angeles for more than a month. A cause has not yet been established.
Some areas of the Los Padres National Forest remain closed to the public until authorities determine it is safe to enter.
The fire began on Dec. 4 and fierce winds drove the flames through tinder-dry brush, chaparral and trees. The fire blackened 440 square miles (1,140.76 square kilometers) — an area almost as large as that of Los Angeles.
Flames whipped by foothill communities and wilderness. More than 1,000 buildings, including many houses were burnt and thousands of people were forced to flee.
Evacuations were called for Montecito as flames covered ridges above the wealthy enclave that was hit by waves of mud on Tuesday.
Two people were killed in the fire. Cory Iverson, a 32-year-old firefighter died of burns and smoke inhalation while working in the steep hills above Fillmore.
An estimate of fire report said Iverson was the laying of the hose line in the vicinity of a firebreak cut by bulldozers, when he was surrounded by spot fires that exploded around him and cut off his retreat.
Four other members of his team managed to escape.
Some Montecito families had only recently returned home when an evacuation call went out on Monday.
Forecasters warned that the approaching storm can trigger flooding and mudslides because the fire scorched areas had lost vegetation that stabilizes the soil.
Cascades of mud, rocks, trees and other debris under the community, destroying at least 100 houses.