FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames from a back firing operation underway rise behind a home off Ladera Lane near Bella Vista Drive in Santa Barbara, Calif. Crews battling Southern California's enormous wildfire are struggling to widen and extend firebreaks before the return of winds Wednesday evening, Dec. 20, 2017, that could once again drive the flames out of control. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP, File)

All significant California wildfire evacuation orders lifted

December 21, 2017 - 2:28 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — All remaining significant evacuation orders for areas around the smoldering remnants of Southern California's huge wildfire were canceled Thursday after a new round of winds caused little fire activity.

The lifting of evacuation orders and warnings in Santa Barbara County left only remote and little developed Rose Valley in the wilderness of neighboring Ventura County under an order barring residents and visitors.

Warnings of high fire risk were canceled for Santa Barbara County, although they remained in effect elsewhere in Southern California due to Santa Ana winds, low humidity levels and very dry vegetation.

The only visible flame was on the northern side of the fire where controlled burns set by firefighters to clear combustible material were being conducted in wilderness, said fire information officer Brandon Vaccaro.

About 18,000 homes and other buildings were still listed as threatened. Even when there's no sign of flame or smoke, fires can rekindle.

The Thomas fire, which began Dec. 4, is responsible for two deaths, has destroyed at least 750 homes, and has burned about 425 square miles (1,100 square kilometers).

The blaze was 60 percent contained and is the second-largest in California's history.

The latest round of winds was caused by the passage of a cold front into the area overnight. But firefighters had used three days of calm conditions to bulldoze containment lines and set controlled fires to clear dry brush.

Some residents stayed away from their homes at hotels and evacuation centers, while others waited at home and hoped for the best.

Katy and Bob Zappala had stayed in their home in Santa Barbara, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, despite an evacuation order in place since Saturday.

"Our cars are packed, we have all our clothes and jewelry, so we're ready to leave at a moment's notice should we have to," Katy Zappala, 74, said Wednesday.

The Zappalas and their cat, Madeline, decided against leaving their home after the evacuation order was issued because they knew authorities would not allow them back in.

"You're always nervous when the winds come up," Zappala said.

Days and days of fierce, often erratic gusts combined with extremely dry weather pushed the blaze with incredible speed as it moved through Ventura County's agricultural Santa Clara Valley, into the city of Ventura and then moved northwestward, threatening the coastal communities of Santa Barbara County.

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Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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