- The Pyrocumulus cloud, which resembled an erupting volcano or a nuclear bomb, was seen above the San Ynez Mountains of western Ventura County in the Los Padres National Forest, near Santa Barbara
- The weather phenomenon, also known as a fire cloud, stretched up almost 30,000 feet high
- Eric Boldt, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said it's similar to a thunderstorm and could be responsible for helping spread the Thomas Wildfire
- On Sunday, the Calfire grew 50,000 acres to 230,000 acres. It is now the fifth worst fire in Californian history
- Thousands of firefighters were battling the blaze on Monday as it crept relentlessly up the Pacific coast and forced new evacuations
Published: 21:53 EST, 11 December 2017 | Updated: 21:54 EST, 11 December 2017
An ominous mushroom cloud was spotted above California Monday as one of the most destructive wildfires in the state's history crept relentlessly up the Pacific coast.
The weather phenomenon, which resembled an erupting volcano or a nuclear bomb, was seen above the San Ynez Mountains of western Ventura County in the Los Padres National Forest, near Santa Barbara.
The billowing Pyrocumulus cloud, also known as a fire cloud, stretched up almost 30,000 feet high.
Eric Boldt, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Oxnard, told San Francisco Gate that the cloud was created by similar forced to a thunderstorm – and its strong winds could be responsible for helping spread the Thomas Wildfire on Sunday as Calfire grew 50,000 acres to 230,000 acres. It is now the fifth worst fire in Californian history.
An apocalyptic mushroom cloud was spotted above California Monday as one of the most destructive wildfires in the state's history crept relentlessly up the Pacific coast
The huge Pyrocumulus cloud of smoke rose to the north of downtown Ventura as seen Sunday afternoon from the Ventura Pier as the Thomas Fire threatens Carpenteria and Montecito
A helicopter flew over two homes as smoke clouds form in the distance after the wildfire swept through the Shepard Mesa neighborhood in Carpinteria, California
The billowing Pyrocumulus cloud of smoke stretched up almost 30,000 feet high
'When we see these clouds billowing so tall, it's the same mechanisms that are happening with a thunderstorm,' he said.
'You're causing updrafts and air that's pushing the smoke higher. It creates its own wind. If it starts to spin, that's where you can get more wind and fast-moving progression of the fire. It can become a dangerous situation for firefighters.'
Thousands of firefighters were battling the blaze on Monday as it crept relentlessly up the Pacific coast and forced new evacuations.
As a wildfire near Los Angeles was brought under control, fire crews were being redeployed to battle the Thomas Fire northwest of America's second-largest city.
Fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters were assisting nearly 6,400 firefighters trying to keep the Thomas Fire away from beachfront towns south of the historic city of Santa Barbara, the California Fire Department (Cal Fire) said.
A helicopter flies over a massive wildfire in Santa Paula, Calif.ornia Thursday when wind-swept blazes forced tens of thousands of evacuations and destroyed dozens of homes
A firefighter battles a wildfire in Santa Paula, Ventura. The fast moving brush fire has ripped through the state during the past week
Huge smoke clouds rise into the sky at the Thomas fire Saturday. The Thomas Fire has spread to near 150,000 acres
Horses that were evacuated from the Thomas Fire are seen on December 10, 2017 in Ojai
'Gusty northeast winds will cause the fire to threaten areas of the city of Santa Barbara,' which has a population of 91,000, Cal Fire said.
Eric Boldt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Los Angeles, said he did not see any immediate respite to the dry, windy conditions that are fueling the blaze.
'The conditions are very critical,' Boldt said. 'Given that we don't see any precipitation for the next two weeks at minimum, it could become the largest fire in the state's history.'
The Thomas Fire has burned 230,500 acres since it erupted a week ago, Cal Fire said, making it the fifth-largest fire in the state's history. It was only 15 percent contained as of early afternoon Monday.
The blaze spread over the weekend in the mostly uninhabited Los Padres National Forest, and was threatening the coastal towns of Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria.
Mandatory evacuation orders were lifted for the inland cities of Ojai and Santa Paula in Ventura County, which has been the hardest hit by the Thomas Fire.
Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was among those fleeing the flames.
'Our house is under threat of being burned,' DeGeneres said on Twitter. 'We just had to evacuate our pets.
'I'm praying for everyone in our community and thankful to all the incredible firefighters.'
US forest fire crews fight fire with fire as they set off huge backfires to cut off the northern flank of the Thomas fire near Rose Valley recreation area Saturday. The Thomas Fire has spread to near 150,000 acres Southern California
Santa Barbara PIO Mike Eliason watches as a home between Via Baja and Foothill goes up in flames Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday
Firefighting helicopters try to save a house from the Thomas wildfire in Carpinteria, California on December 10
Firefighting helicopters try to save a house from the Thomas wildfire in Carpinteria, California on December 10
Members of the Reinhardt family sort through the remains of their family home after the Thomas wildfire swept through Ventura, California
'Praying for my town,' actor Rob Lowe, a Santa Barbara County resident, wrote on Twitter. Fires closing in. Firefighters making brave stands. Could go either way. Packing to evacuate now.'
May Osher, a 66-year-old retired schoolteacher in Carpinteria, told the Los Angeles Times she had put photo albums and pet supplies in her car and was ready to evacuate if told to do so.
'I'm staying until it's time to go,' Osher told the newspaper.
Cal Fire said 800 buildings have been destroyed by the fire, which is being fueled by tinder dry brush and strong and unpredictable Santa Ana winds.
Despite the intensity of the fires stretching from north of Los Angeles down to San Diego, authorities have reported only one fatality – a 70-year-old woman who died in a car crash while fleeing a blaze.
California Governor Jerry Brown has warned that climate change meant the state was becoming increasingly vulnerable and wildfires were becoming the 'new normal.'
'The fire season used to be a few months in the summer,' Brown said. 'Now it's almost year-long.'
Brown has been one of the most vocal critics of President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris accord on global warming, and he renewed his attacks on the administration over its attitude toward climate change.
'Nature is not a political game. Nature is the ground on which we stand, it's the air which we breathe,' he said.
'The truth of the case is that there's too much carbon being emitted, that heat-trapping gasses are building up, the planet is warming and all hell is breaking loose.'
This has been California's deadliest year ever for wildfires. More than 40 people died in October when fires swept through the state's wine-producing counties north of San Francisco.
Trump has issued a state of emergency for California, authorizing the release of federal funds.
The White House said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue briefed the president and Vice President Mike Pence on the response to the wildfires and prevention efforts.
Actor Billy Baldwin shared shocking photos from outside his house showing dust clouding over the sky.
'Smoke from the #ThomasFire blocks out the sun… San Ynez, CA North Santa Barbara County #ThankYouFirefighters!!!,' Baldwin wrote in the picture post.
#Thomas Fire now: 173,000 acres, 4,500 firefighters, 710 structures and 15% contained,# he said this morning.
Crews with help from a fleet water-dropping planes and helicopters saved homes as unpredictable gusts sent the blaze deeper into residential foothill areas northwest of Los Angeles that haven't burned in decades.
'The winds are kind of squirrely right now,' said county fire spokesman Mike Eliason.
'Some places the smoke is going straight up in the air, and others it's blowing sideways. Depends on what canyon we're in.'
The department posted a photo of one residence engulfed in flames. It's unclear whether other structures burned.
Thousands of homes and businesses in the county were without power.
The air thick with acrid smoke, even residents of areas not under evacuation orders took the opportunity to leave, fearing another shutdown of U.S. 101, a key coastal highway that was closed intermittently last week.
Officials handed out masks to residents who stayed behind in Montecito, the wealthy hillside enclave that's home to celebrities such as Lowe, Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges.
A few miles to the west, Santa Barbara Zoo was closed to the public and its 500 animals confined to their night quarters all day.
The zoo was just outside the evacuation area, but smoke and ash blew through the 30-acre property.
Firefighters made significant progress Saturday on other fronts of the enormous fire that started Dec. 4 in neighboring Ventura County.
As containment increased on other major blazes in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties, resources from those fires were diverted to the Santa Barbara foothills.
Forecasters said Santa Ana winds that whipped fires across the region last week would continue in some areas at least through Monday.
Strong Santa Ana winds have been feeding major wildfires all week, destroying hundreds of houses and forcing tens of thousands of people to stay away from their homes
Firefighters watch after setting a backfire at night to make progress against the Thomas Fire before the winds return with the daylight near Lake Casitas on December 9, 2017 near Ojai, California
A fire whirl, also called a fire devil, forms as firefighters use drip torches to set a backfire at night in an effort to make progress against the Thomas Fire before the winds return with the daylight near Lake Casitas on December 9 near Ojai
A lack of rain has officials on edge statewide because of parched conditions and no end in sight to the typical fire season.
'This is the new normal,' Gov. Jerry Brown warned Saturday after surveying damage from the deadly Ventura fire.
'We're about ready to have firefighting at Christmas. This is very odd and unusual.'
High fire risk is expected to last into January and the governor and experts said climate change is making it a year-round threat.
Overall, the fires have destroyed about 800 homes and other buildings, killed dozens of horses and forced more than 200,000 people to flee flames that have burned over 270 square miles (700 square kilometers) since Dec. 4.
One death, so far, a 70-year-old woman who crashed her car on an evacuation route, is attributed to the fire in Santa Paula, a small city where the fire began.
The Ventura County blaze also continued to burn into rugged mountains in the Los Padres National Forest near the little town of Ojai and toward a preserve established for endangered California condors.
Ojai experienced hazardous levels of smoke at times and officials warned of unhealthy air for large swaths of the region.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District urged residents to stay indoors if possible and avoid vigorous outdoor activities.
As fires burned in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, firefighters were already in place north of San Diego on Thursday when a major fire erupted and rapidly spread in the Fallbrook area, known for its avocado groves and horse stables in the rolling hills.
The fire swept through the San Luis Rey Training Facility, where it killed more than 40 elite thoroughbreds and destroyed more than 100 homes — most of them in a retirement community.
Three people were burned trying to escape the fire that continued to smolder Sunday.
Most of last week's fires were in places that burned in the past, including one in the ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood of Bel-Air that burned six homes and another in the city's rugged foothills above the community of Sylmar and in Santa Paula.
Meanwhile, the Lilac Fire #reached a peak of 1,409 Sunday and officials at the central command center say they're likely to begin releasing crews from duty now that the fire has reached 60 percent containment,' according to Fox 5 San Diego.
Crews worked through Sunday to strengthen containment lines and put out hot spots, the news station said.
'The fire's looking really good, despite the wind,' said Cal Fire public information officer and Battalion Chief, Henry Herrera.
'If we can get through today I think we'll be in pretty good shape for the remainder of this incident.'
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