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The California Wildfires Could Continue Until Christmas

Without rain, high temperatures will keep the smoke coming—and could spur new fire growth.
California Wildfires gif map

At a moment when firefighters—and anyone who lives and breathes in Southern California—could use a break, the atmosphere is about to double down.

The latest weather forecasts continue to show not even a drop of rain for at least the next 16 days in Southern California, with a continuation of warmer-than-normal temperatures until Christmas Eve, or even longer. Conditions like that will favor continued smoldering or even new fire growth for the indefinite future in the areas that are still burning out of control.

In Ventura County, the Thomas Fire, now in its fifth day at 134,000 acres and just 10 percent containment, has grown into the first megafire in recorded California history in the month of December.

That the fires are happening when the rainy season is normally already in full swing is one thing, but the extent and unpredictability of the flames continue to astound officials tasked with stopping their spread.

The Thomas Fire is now one of the largest and most destructive fires for any month in California history, burning more than 400 homes and buildings as of Friday afternoon. At least 15,000 buildings remain threatened by the fire. Air quality in the region is being strongly affected, and with no incoming rains to clear things out, will likely remain "a major issue" for weeks to come, according to the National Weather Service. On Friday morning, President Donald Trump declared a federal disaster, which will help speed the flow recovery aid.

The National Weather Service has extended its forecast for damaging Santa Ana winds until at least Sunday and likely much longer. In a technical forecast discussion on Friday, forecasters in Los Angeles said the overall weather pattern would remain "very stable" through at least the end of next week, with occasional bursts of offshore Santa Ana winds.

Since October, rainfall in the region has been less than 5 percent of normal—one of the driest starts to the rainy season in history. Conditions this week have been more like summertime, with near-record-low humidity and temperatures in the 80s.