Firefighters trying to tame a blaze that has destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern California were facing bone-dry conditions and the return of powerful wind gusts on Wednesday.A lull in the winds a day earlier sapped the forward momentum of the Thomas Fire, which has charred more than 368 square miles (953 square km) in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, an area larger than New York City.
But adverse weather will again "promote significant fire growth" and hamper efforts to control the inferno, which broke out on December 4 and became the fifth largest wildfire in state history, authorities said in an advisory overnight.
The fire, which has destroyed more than 700 homes and displaced more than 94,000 people, was 25% contained by Wednesday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in the statement.
It continued to threaten coastal communities including Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito, driven by Santa Ana winds and humidity of less than 10% that are forecast until Friday, Cal Fire and the National Weather Service said.
On Tuesday, some of the nearly 8,000 firefighters battling the blaze took advantage of the more advantageous weather to set controlled burns in a canyon near Carpinteria to deprive the flames of fuel, Cal Fire Captain Steve Concialdi told reporters.
US Representative Julia Brownley, whose 26th Congressional District includes Ventura, said on Tuesday the fire could take another week to contain. The efforts have so far cost more than $55mn, according to authorities.
Many public schools in Santa Barbara and surrounding districts have canceled classes this week and will not reopen until the annual winter break is completed in January.
Some of the other fires burning over the past week in San Diego and Los Angeles counties have been largely 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 on Tuesday.
Cal Fire officials said the Lilac Fire, which burned more than 4000 acres in northern San Diego County and destroyed 157 structures, was 95% contained by Wednesday. Full containment was expected by December 21.