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Thomas Fire: Firefighters brace for return of winds

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Firefighters haul dozens of pounds of hose and equipment down steep terrain below E. Camino Cielo to root out and extinguish smoldering hot spots in Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Officials estimate that the Thomas Fire will grow to become the biggest in California history before full containment.
In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Firefighters haul dozens of pounds of hose and equipment down steep terrain below E. Camino Cielo to root out and extinguish smoldering hot spots in Santa Barbara, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Officials estimate that the Thomas Fire will grow to become the biggest in California history before full containment.
Mike Eliason/AP

This story is no longer being updated. For the most recent developments of the Thomas Fire, please go here

Evacuations | Road closures

Crews battling Southern California's enormous wildfire are struggling to widen and extend firebreaks before the return of winds that could once again drive the flames out of control. The fire is the second-largest in 85 years of recorded California history. It's expected to become the largest as flames continue to eat into forest land, though it remained at 272,000 acres on Wednesday evening with the same containment numbers.

Forecasts call for 20- to 30-mph winds with gusts to 60 mph by Wednesday evening in the coastal mountains northeast of Los Angeles. That will end a three-day lull that allowed firefighters to contain about 60 percent of the Thomas fire, which is burning in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Since it began on Dec. 4, the wind-whipped blaze has burned hundreds of homes and is blamed for the deaths of a firefighter and an evacuee.

It has burned 272,000 acres, destroying nearly 800 homes and damaging hundreds more.

The largest on record was the 2003 Cedar Fire, which burned a little more than 273,000 acres in San Diego County. Cal Fire unit chief Scott Jalbert told KPCC the Thomas Fire is almost certain to surpass it.

"The increase of acreage is coming from the backside of the fire off the Highway 33. That's the area where the fire's extremely remote into very rugged areas," Jalbert said.

Crews are working to tame the northern edge of the fire, where it meets the rough terrain of the Los Padres National Forest.

Firefighters have largely contained the fire's front end near Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and Montecito, but they're still mopping up hot spots in those areas.

More evacuations were lifted Tuesday, but communities remain threatened in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Despite the return of high winds, Jalbert said they expect to extinguish the Thomas Fire by Sunday.

A firefighter and a fleeing civilian have died in the fire.

Evacuations

Mandatory:

Voluntary:

Road closures

Ventura County:

Santa Barbara County:

This story has been updated.