The Thomas Fire. (Jim Bob Barnett)

“We are at war.”

That’s how a Los Angeles spokesman phrased it when describing what it was like fighting the flames. Hundreds of firefighters “didn’t come to work this morning,” he said, “we came to war.

At one point engulfing an acre per second, the Thomas Fire was sparked just as Santa Ana winds gusting up to 80 miles per hour blasted over tinder dry vegetation. The vegetation, once lush from last winter’s record rainfall and ripe with wildflower superblooms, desiccated after a record-setting dry fall season and turned into efficient fuel for the wildfires.

It’s also a war that’s being waged abnormally late in the season. When was the last time a fire this destructive ignited in the month of December? According to Cal Fire, exactly none of the top 20 most-destructive fires on record have occurred during the month of December.

That’s because December begins the wet season for California, yet it hasn’t been much of a wet season. In fact, if San Diego fails to pick up any rainfall the first two weeks of this month, it will be their driest start to the wet season since 1929.

Within hours, the Thomas Fire sent smoke and ash into the atmosphere, with pyrocumulus clouds visible from dozens of miles away. The smoke plume, being blown downwind by the strong northeasterly Santa Ana winds, stretched more than 300 miles out over the Pacific Ocean.

Photographer Jim Bob Barnett describes his story surrounding taking the photo above:

My girlfriend Olivia and I were sitting at home when we all of a sudden lost power, after sitting around for a while, we decided we wanted to try and see what was going on, so we got in my truck and drove around Santa Barbara looking for the cause. We came across an Edison Crew working on a power pole so we asked them if that was the cause of the fire when he told us it was the Thomas Fire that had knocked power out from Santa Paula to Goleta! So we headed to our work in Summerland where we thought we might have a view of it and sure enough we did, at first the fire was only on the right side of the peak and within 45 minutes it had spread all the way over to the other side and that’s when I got my camera out and was able to capture this photo.

Unfortunately, firefighters will gain no help from Mother Nature in fighting the fires, as the dry pattern looks to continue for the next week or two.

Thank you to photographer Jim Bob Barnett (website) for sharing his photo with us this week.

A few more photos of the devastating Thomas Fire this week: