‘Firefighters taking a beating’ as Santa Ana winds rage

A firefighter battles a wildfire in Ojai, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

(CNN)–Dry weather and merciless winds, with gusts predicted to reach the strength of a Category 1 hurricane in mountainous areas, threaten to intensify the already devastating Southern California wildfires that have driven 110,000 people from their homes.

About 5,000 firefighters — half of them assigned to the massive Thomas Fire alone — have been working nonstop to battle the blazes racing across hillsides and through neighborhoods, officials said. Almost 9,000 homes are without power. Officials have shut down hundreds of schools spanning at least 15 districts.
At 96,000 acres, the Thomas Fire is roughly the size of Denver. The blaze was 5% contained as of early Thursday.
It could go down as one of the most destructive fires in state history, spread over 31,000 acres in the span of about nine hours — roughly an acre a second. At that rate, it would’ve consumed New York’s Central Park in about 15 minutes. The plume from the fire stretches 1,000 miles into the Pacific Ocean.
Together, four fires — the Thomas, Creek, Rye and Skirball — have consumed about 116,000 acres, according to the state fire summary.
Despite a brief respite, winds began picking up again Wednesday evening. A gust of 85 mph was detected in Ventura County. Forecasters say Thursday will bring gusts of 80 mph in the higher altitudes, while winds of 50 to 70 mph will make firefighters’ mission difficult in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
The humidity won’t help. It will still be low Thursday, meaning the trees and brush fueling the fires will continue to be tinder. Firefighters are exhausted and airborne embers are irritating their eyes.
“Honestly, the firefighters are taking a beating, but we have to acknowledge the residents because they’re taking beating, too, but they’re cooperating with our orders,” said Thomas Kruschke, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

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