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Thomas fire rages amid longest red flag warning on record

As crews battling the deadly Thomas fire girded for a difficult weekend of firefighting, Los Angeles and Ventura counties ended their 12th consecutive day of red flag fire warnings Friday — the longest sustained period of fire weather warnings on record.

“We put out plenty of red flag warnings, but we haven’t seen them out 12 days in a row. That’s unusual,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan. “This has been the longest duration event that we have had a red flag warning out without any breaks.”

The current warning is expected to last until 10 a.m. Friday, when winds are predicted to die down quite a bit, Kaplan said. Red flag warnings were instituted by the weather service in 2004, and are intended to alert fire agencies to those hot, dry and windy conditions that foster wildfires.

Winds blowing through Southern California continue to be temperamental, posing challenges for firefighters battling the Thomas fire, which claimed the life of apparatus engineer Cory Iverson, 32, on Thursday.

Ten days after the fire began near Thomas Aquinas College, the wildfire has scorched 252,500 acres and is now the fourth-largest since the state began keeping formal records in 1932.

The fire, which straddles the border of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, is so large that its eastern and western fronts are influenced by entirely different wind patterns and terrain. In many ways, it’s as if firefighters are battling two separate fires some 40 miles apart.

On the eastern flank of the fire, where there is a strong northeast wind, there are wind speeds of about 25 to 35 mph. However, winds in the Ventura area are expected to die down by later Friday morning, “which should help the firefighters,” Kaplan said.

“It’ll be nice to get a little break from the winds,” Kaplan said.

A trough is expected to develop and move into Southern California on Friday night into early Saturday morning.

“That could start some localized sundowner type winds, which could be problematic for the firefighters up there in Montecito tonight and tomorrow morning.”

Winds are expected to pick up over Montecito by late Friday, with the possibility of 15 to 25 mph winds with some local gusts of maybe 35 or 40 mph, Kaplan said.

“That could affect the fire,” Kaplan said. “If that happens that could cause some fire spread.”

Winds are going to shift back to a Santa Ana direction by Saturday night into Sunday and they are expected to get fairly strong by Sunday morning, Kaplan said.

Los Angeles County and Ventura County mountains could see sustained winds from 20 to 40 mph on Sunday, with gusts up to 45 to 55 mph. There could be some isolated gusts up to 60 mph, Kaplan said.

“It’s looking pretty strong,” Kaplan said.

The Thomas fire has destroyed more than 900 structures in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties since it began Dec. 4 near Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. In its first day, the fire spread southwest, toward Ventura, and northwest, eventually hugging Ojai before pushing to the Santa Barbara coast.

For more California news, follow @brittny_mejia

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