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Thomas Fire Brings Huge Void For Firefighters As Well

VENTURA (CBSLA) — At its most dangerous the Thomas fire was tearing through neighborhoods in two counties.  Leaving hundreds without a home this Christmas.

Every firefighter CBS2's Greg Mills spoke with feels for those who lost their homes.

"I feel sorry for all of the folks without a home,"  Thomas Fire incident commander, Mark von Tillow said. "Without a Christmas tree, at least I have that."

Still, it's not easy for these men and women.

"When was the last time you saw your wife?" Mills asked.

"Uh, December, 10th, 11th, 12th? somewhere in there,"  von Tillow said.

Von Tillow's family is home in Santa Ynez on Christmas Eve.  He and his crew are here mapping and planning the attack of the Thomas Fire, now the largest wildfire in California history.

"It's not about me and my family.  It's about everybody here. The whole team," von Tillow said.

More than 15,000 firefighters are working on the Thomas Fire which is far from over. The monster fire started Dec. 4 and is now in its 21st day. It is 86 percent contained and has burned more than 281,000 acres.

Here's how Jason Starkey, a firefighter from Oregon spent Christmas Eve.

"There was a 30-foot deep burning hole so we were working side-by-side with backhoes and excavators," Starkey said.  His reward.  A hot turkey dinner and a good night's sleep he'll do it again tomorrow. It's the first time he's missed Christmas at home.

This fire is winding down.  No more night firefighting which is the most dangerous.  With things improving firefighters have a little more downtime and can actually relax a bit.  Little consolation in the scheme of things.

"And I will be missing my birthday on this fire line also.  And New Years," Starkey said.

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