Thomas fire within 500 acres of becoming California's largest wildfire on record

Firefighters climb a hill while cutting a line among homes at the Thomas Fire on Dec. 16 2017 in Montecito

A sprawling Southern California wildfire that has been burning through rugged, drought-parched coastal terrain since December 4 has become the largest on record in the state, state fire officials said on Friday.

That was 154 acres larger than California's previous fire record holder - the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County that killed 15 people.

A firefighter and a civilian fleeing the flames died in the Thomas fire as days of unrelentingly dry, gusty winds drove the flames.

The huge wildfire that burned hundreds of homes in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties is now the largest in California's recorded history.

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Cal Fire says the flames have burned through 1,063 buildings and is just 65 percent contained after starting on December 4th.

The Thomas Fire was concentrated near the celebrity havens of Montecito and Santa Barbara, with more than 100,000 people evacuated and damages to date estimated at more than $120 million. "Any growth that we see or is reflected in the acreage will be based on the control burns".

The milestone reaffirmed 2017 as the most destructive fire season on record in the state.

Firefighters set the speed of the burn, he said, using bulldozers, fire engines and hand tools.

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By Friday, however, humidity was higher, temperatures were cooler and the fire threat to homes in many areas eased.

The backfire operation began this week on the south side of Potrero Seco Road west of Highway 33 and is slowly crawling deeper into wilderness and toward the bigger Thomas fire footprint to the south, said Brandon Vaccaro, a spokesman for Cal Fire. The Thomas Fire kicked off a series of wildfires near Ventura County that eventually threatened Los Angeles, San Diego and Bel-Air, sparking evacuations throughout the region.

The improving conditions allowed officials to lift many evacuation orders on Thursday. At least two deaths, including one firefighter, have been attributed to the Thomas Fire.

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