California wildfires: Mandatory evacuation orders called off

The worst appears to be over for a massive wildfire that plagued a wide swath of the Southern California coast for two and a half weeks.

At least 2 killed and about 750 buildings destroyed in Thomas Fire in Ventura, Santa Barbara

In this Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames burn near power lines in Sycamore Canyon near West Mountain Drive in Montecito, Calif. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

The worst appears to be over for a massive wildfire that plagued a wide swath of the Southern California coast for two and a half weeks.

The last mandatory evacuation orders for the fire were called off by Thursday. At its peak, the fire drove about 100,000 people from their homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Only a remote wilderness valley remained under a voluntary evacuation warning.

The so-called Thomas Fire became the largest wildfire the state had ever seen on Friday, covering a little over 110,600 hectares. But by then it was a gentle giant, not a raging beast.

A Skycrane helicopter passes firefighters atop a hillside while coming in for a water drop below E. Camino Cielo in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Tuesday. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Authorities said the fire is moving slowly in wilderness on its north flank but there was minimal activity elsewhere.

The passage of a cold front through the area late in the week produced strong winds in the Montecito area, near Santa Barbara, but caused no remarkable fire behaviour, officials said. Use of controlled burns to clear brush were temporarily hampered by a spike in humidity, and a light frosting of snow dusted the tops of some ridges.

The Thomas Fire, which began Dec. 4, is responsible for two deaths and has destroyed at least 750 homes.

Days of fierce, often erratic gusts combined with extremely dry weather pushed the blaze with incredible speed as it moved through Ventura County's agricultural Santa Clara Valley, into the city of Ventura and then moved northwestward, threatening the coastal communities of Santa Barbara County.

With files from Reuters

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