Firefighters keep watch on the Thomas wildfire in the hills and canyons outside Montecito, California, U.S., December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
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A raging California wildfire powered by fierce winds grew into the third-largest in state history Saturday as forced evacuations turned neighborhoods into ghost towns and ash fell in some areas like heavy snow.Nearly 8,500 personnel using nearly 1,000 engines and 32 helicopters were battling the blaze, which was 40 percent contained on Saturday evening.In Montecito, smoke billowing from nearby canyons and pushed by the high winds choked the air, hindering aircraft from dropping flame retardant, the Governor's Office of Emergency Services said.The wildfire forced many schools to close for days, shut roads and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. The largest wildfire in state history was the 2003 Cedar blaze in San Diego County that consumed 273,246 acres and caused 15 deaths.
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