WASHINGTON – Firefighters in California are being tested by fierce Santa Ana winds Friday morning as they battle a huge wildfire that has claimed the life of one of their colleagues and torched more than 700 homes.
Cory Iverson, 32, ann engineer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (known as Cal Fire), was killed Thursday while battling the so-called Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
He was married with a 2-year-old daughter and his wife is expecting another daughter next spring.
Fire officials said he perished near the community of Fillmore.
Dozens of fellow firefighters lined up in Fillmore to honor Iverson in a procession as his body was removed. Fire engines lined bridges above the freeway as the body was being transported to the Ventura County Coroner’s Office.
California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement about the fatality. “Anne and I are saddened by Engineer Cory Iverson’s tragic death. His bravery and years of committed service to the people of California will never be forgotten.”
Near-tornado winds in Santa Ana and humidity in the single digits has stoked the blaze that has swept through dry vegetation since Dec. 4. The fire has blackened more than 249,000 acres (about 390 square miles) and is now the fourth-largest wildfire on record in California since 1932.
The Thomas Fire was 35 percent contained by Thursday night, covering 249,500 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, Cal Fire officials said at a Thursday night news conference. The fire has burned 729 homes to the ground and damaged another 175, and displaced more than 94,000 people.
The National Weather Service said the powerful winds forecast for Friday morning were expected to subside during the day and could provide the break that will allow firefighters to bring the raging wildfires under control.
The fire and others to the south in San Diego and Los Angeles counties have disrupted life for millions of people over the past 11 days. Ventura County has ordered a mandatory evacuation of part of the county, which is northwest of Los Angeles.
The state is ordering utility companies to do more to keep power lines from igniting devastating wildfires.
The California Public Utilities Commission Thursday toughened its rules requiring power companies to keep trees and brush away from power lines in areas at higher risk of fires. Utilities also have to step up patrols to look for fire risks and speed repairs.