Firefighter dies, thousands more take on California blaze

One of the thousands of firefighters battling a series of wildfires across Southern California has died, but authorities gave no hint of how.

San Diego-based Cory Iverson was assigned to the blaze northwest of Los Angeles, which has become the fourth largest in California history. Iverson, 32, was an engineer with a state fire engine strike team. He died Thursday.

Dozens of police and fire vehicles escorted a hearse carrying Iverson’s flag-draped body to the county medical examiner’s office in Ventura.

Iverson had been with the state since 2009, said Fire Chief Ken Pimlott of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean called for a moment of silence in Iverson’s memory Thursday night at an informational meeting for residents of the rural town of Fillmore, near an eastern flank of the fire.

“As I was up in the canyon and I watched his fire brethren remove his flag-draped body from the canyon in the hills above where we sit right here, I couldn’t help but think about his pregnant wife and his young daughter who will never see their husband and father again,” Dean said.

It was the second death linked to the fire. A 70-year-old woman was killed in a car crash while evacuating as the fire raged last week. Her body was found inside the wrecked car along an evacuation route.

Pimlott did not provide any details about Iverson’s death but said it was under investigation by an accident review team.

A return of gusty Santa Ana winds brought renewed activity to inland portions of the so-called Thomas Fire straddling coastal Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Pimlott said he was “deeply saddened” by Iverson’s death but added that fire crews were continuing to focus on their mission.

“The firefight in front of us continues to go on. The communities we are protecting are depending on us and we will not fail,” he said at an afternoon news conference.

Authorities said it had scorched more than 394 square miles (1,020 sq. kilometres) by early Friday. Containment was estimated at 35 per cent.

Firefighting costs so far were tallied at $88.8 million, according to Cal Fire.

Some evacuations were lifted in areas where the fire had long since passed. But coastal enclaves to the west remained under threat as crews protected hillside homes in Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria.

Since the blaze broke out on Dec. 4, it has destroyed 970 buildings — including at least 700 homes — and damaged many more. Evacuation orders have affected more than 94,000 people.

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