December 23, 2017 / 2:32 AM / a year ago

California wildfire becomes largest on record in the state

Firefighters keep watch on the Thomas wildfire in the hills and canyons outside Montecito, California, U.S., December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

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

The so-called Thomas fire has blazed through 273,400 acres (110,641 hectares), surpassing the previous record of the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County that scorched 273,246 acres and killed 15 people, they said.

The Thomas fire was 65 percent contained as of Friday evening and the natural spread of the blaze had been virtually halted days ago by fire crew, they said.

Incremental increases in burned acreage detected by daily aerial surveys since then have been largely due to controlled-burning operations conducted by firefighters to clear swaths of vegetation between the smoldering edges of the fire zone and populated areas.

The fire has destroyed over 1,000 structures as it has scorched coastal mountains, foothills and canyons across Ventura and Santa Barbara counties northwest of Los Angeles, officials said.

On Thursday, authorities canceled the last evacuation notices still in effect for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

One fatality directly related to the fire has been reported, a firefighter who succumbed to burns and smoke inhalation in the line of duty last Thursday.

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; editing by Diane Craft

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