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While Thomas Fire Continues To Grow, Some Evacuations Lifted

VENTURA (CBSLA/AP) – The Thomas Fire that has destroyed hundreds of homes in Ventura County -- and is moving northwest into Santa Barbara County -- grew overnight Friday to 148,000 acres, this while some mandatory evacuation orders were lifted.

The Ventura County Fire Department reported Saturday morning that the fire, which broke out Monday in the area of the 150 and 126 highways north of Santa Paula, was now 15 percent contained.

The Thomas Fire has destroyed at least 537 structures and damaged 118. Firefighting costs for the Thomas Fire have now topped $17 million, VCFD said Saturday. More than 3,500 firefighters are battling the devastating blaze.

Thomas Fire: Evacuations and Closures

Thousands of residents were allowed to return home Friday night after evacuations orders were lifted for parts of Ventura, Ojai and Santa Paula. However the fire continues to threaten parts of those cities, along with Casitas Springs, Fillmore and unincorporated areas of Ventura County and Matilija Canyon. The fire is expected to move into Santa Barbara County, where the ocean side city of Carpinteria remains under a mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.

Along the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara, tiny communities have so far survived close calls. Slopes along U.S. 101 were blackened, but homes still stood at La Conchita and Faria Beach.

The firefight will continue to be challenging as a Red Flag Warning remains in effect through 8 p.m. Sunday for most of Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Santa Ana wind gusts of 30 to 50 miles per hour are expected, with humidity in the single digits.

California Gov. Jerry Brown was set to visit the scene of the fire Saturday. Brown will survey damage from the Thomas Fire and will meet with emergency management officials and residents.

On Friday, the first fire-related death was confirmed by the Ventura County medical examiner's office. Virginia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, was found dead Wednesday night along an evacuation route near a fire northwest of Los Angeles. Her death was caused by crash injuries, smoke inhalation and burns, the medical examiner's office said in a statement.

"This tragic death is the only confirmed fire-related death in Ventura County to date," said Dr. Christopher Young, the Ventura County chief medical examiner.

The Thomas Fire is the largest of six that have scorched Southern California. On Friday, President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration allowing counties affected by the wildfires to receive federal assistance.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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