Published Dec 26, 2017 at 5:45 AM | Updated at 6:48 AM PST on Dec 26, 2017
They have been fighting one of California's most destructive wildfires since Dec. 4 -- more than three weeks of arduous work in hot, dry, windy and dangerous conditions. As families gathered to celebrate Christmas, about 1,500 firefighters continued to battle the largest wildfire on record in California.
On Christmas Day, the 281,000-acre Thomas fire was 86 percent contained in the mountains and hills of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Firefighters worked through the holiday to strengthen and build containment lines, protecting homes, businesses and lives during what has been a devastating year of blazes in the state. Cal Fire reported 6,982 fires in California from Jan. 1 to Dec. 17, including the deadly, wind-fanned North Bay fires in October. Wildfires in 2017 have scorched more than 505,910 acres, more than double last year’s burned acreage count. During that same period in 2016, the state firefighting agency reported 4,759 fires that burned 244,304 acres.
Below, a look at some of what firefighters have faced -- from monster flames to the kindness of strangers -- during the battle against the Thomas fire and other December blazes.