A firefighter died Thursday morning while battling the wildfire in Southern California dubbed Thomas Fire,the fourth largest wildfire in modern California history, even as the authorities warned that powerful winds hitting the area through Sunday could pose new threats to the communities.
The man was identified as fire apparatus engineer Cory Iverson, 32, who had joined California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) in 2009. He is survived by his wife and a toddler, Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said at a press conference.
"While we continue to process this tragic loss, we must keep our focus on the fire. The fire fight in front of us continues to go on," Pimlott said. "The communities are depending on us, and we will not fail."
As the body of the slain firefighter was taken back to his home, 350 kilometers south of the scene, fellow firefighters and citizens lined the road in tribute.
The Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff Friday in Iverson's honor. California Governor Jerry Brown, expressing sorrow over Iverson's death, said, "His bravery and years of committed service to the people of California will never be forgotten."
Thomas Fire, which started 10 days ago, had scorched over 242,500 acres (981.4 square kilometers) and destroyed nearly 1,000 structures till Thursday evening. So far 35 percent of the fire has been controlled.
National Weather Service predicted a new blast of Santa Ana winds that would continue till Sunday.
The Santa Ana winds are strong, extremely dry down-slope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California in fall and winter. They are known as "devil winds" for fanning regional wildfires.
Cal Fire said they did not expect to reach full control of the blaze until Jan. 7, 2018.