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Firefighters Race To Tame Massive California Wildfire

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LOS ANGELES -

Crews trying to corral Southern California's enormous wildfire hope to take advantage of a two-day window of calmer winds before potentially dangerous gusts return at mid-week, officials said Monday. 

The 422-square-mile fire, which broke out two weeks ago, still threatens communities northwest of Los Angeles, where thousands remain under evacuation orders. 

Cooler temperatures, slightly higher humidity and light winds forecast for Monday and Tuesday will be "critical" for firefighters hoping to make progress against the Thomas Fire, said fire spokesman Capt. Rick Crawford.

"For right now the winds seem very favorable," he said. "We're always looking out for those unpredictable gusts."

The hot, gusty winds that caused a huge flare-up and forced more residents to flee over the weekend are expected to come back Wednesday. Gusts hit 70 mph over the weekend, CBS News' Carter Evans reported.

The Thomas Fire is now the third-largest blaze in California's history, and is 45 percent contained.

The fire churning through brush in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has burned more than 1,000 structures, including at least 750 homes. Mike and Dana Stoneking lost their Ventura home while many of their neighbors' properties were spared, CBS Los Angeles reported. The Stonekings planned to rebuild, and found some solace after retrieving Mike's wedding ring from the ashes.

Television news footage showed at least one structure burned on property in the wealthy enclave of Montecito, and authorities said damage assessments could take days. On Saturday, more than 3,000 people in and around Montecito were forced to evacuate, Evans reported.

Some 18,000 more residences remain threatened.

The body of a firefighter killed while battling the blaze was transported Sunday in a procession that rolled through five counties before ending up at a funeral home in San Diego. Mourners stood on freeway overpasses to pay respects to firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, who died Dec. 14 of burns and smoke inhalation. He is survived by his pregnant wife and a 2-year-old daughter.

The blaze is also blamed for the Dec. 6 death of a 70-year-old woman who died in a car crash on an evacuation route.

Everything about the fire has been massive, from the sheer scale of destruction that destroyed entire neighborhoods to the legions of people attacking it. More than 8,000 firefighters from nearly a dozen states battled the third largest wildfire in state history.

The cause remains under investigation. So far, firefighting costs have surpassed $117 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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