Firefighter killed battling massive California blaze

LOS ANGELES, Dec 14 (Reuters) - A firefighter was killed on Thursday while battling a mammoth California wildfire as crews sought to protect coastal cities and towns in the path of flames that have destroyed more than 700 homes.

The flag-draped remains of firefighter Cory Iverson, 32, were driven out of the fire zone in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, in a hearse as his comrades saluted from roadsides and overpasses.

"Anne and I are saddened by Engineer Cory Iverson’s tragic death. His bravery and years of committed service to the people of California will never be forgotten,” California Governor Jerry Brown said in a statement.

RELATED: Faces of those impacted by the California wildfires

17 PHOTOS
Faces of those impacted and battling the Ventura County, California wildfire
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Faces of those impacted and battling the Ventura County, California wildfire
SHADOW HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 05:Judy Hofmann-Sanders hugs a firefighter on McBroom Street in Shadow Hills, where the Creek fire destroyed several homes. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Ventura County Firefighter Aaron Cohen catches his breath after fighting to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. 'We chased the fire from Santa Paula all the way into Ventura through the night,' Cohen said. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SYLMAR, CA - DECEMBER 5:A firefighter gets into position to battle the Creek Fire as a house is engulfed in flames near the intersection of Johanna Avenue and McBroom Street in Shadow Hills on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The fire started at about 3:42 a.m. in the area of Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads and has burned more than 11,000 acres. (Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SHADOW HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 05:Judy Hofmann-Sanders talks on the phone as her home is consumed by the Creek fire along McBroom Street in Shadow Hills. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Chino Valley Fire Engineer Chris Calvert works the engine as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Amanda Leon and husband Johnny Leon watch as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Local residents react as numerous homes burn on a hillside during a wind driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Local residents watch a home burn on a hillside during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A Ventura police officer squints his eyes in the smoke after using his fire extinguisher to put out a spot fire as strong winds carry a wildfire into Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Ventura policemen leave a neighborhood after checking a home as strong winds carry a wildfire into Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Firefighters battle flames from a Santa Ana wind-driven brush fire called the Thomas Fire in Santa Paula, California, December 4, 2017. Photo taken December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Tammy Hanna breaks into tears as she is hugged by husband Antoine as they are relieved their home was saved by Firefighters along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. 'We chased the fire from Santa Paula all the way into Ventura through the night,' Cohen said. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Wearing his Christmas garb Justin Ekback watches as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SHADOW HILLS, CA DECEMBER 05, 2017 -- Judy Hofmann-Sanders can only watch as her home is consumed by the Creek fire along McBroom Street in Shadow Hills. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Local residents pass by a burning house during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, California, on December 5, 2017. Firefighters battled a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California that has left at least one person dead, destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands to flee. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents Aaron Cohen hugs Tammy Hanna during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, California on December 5, 2017. Firefighters battled a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California that has left at least one person dead, destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands to flee. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Fire officials released little information about the circumstances surrounding Iverson's death, which came while he was fighting the so-called Thomas Fire, now the fourth-largest wildfire on record in California since 1932.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported that Iverson, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection engineer, perished in an accident near the community of Fillmore, where a mayday alert was sounded.

The Thomas Fire, which erupted on Dec. 4 near a small private college in Ojai, has since blackened more than 249,000 acres.

The conflagration advanced again overnight to surpass the Zaca Fire, which struck Santa Barbara County in 2007, charring 240,000 acres (97,120 hectares).

The Thomas Fire, which was 35 percent contained as of Thursday evening, has burned 729 single-family homes to the ground and damaged another 175. The blaze has displaced more than 94,000 people.

RELATED: Aerial images of the California wildfires

15 PHOTOS
Aerial images of Ventura County, California wildfire
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Aerial images of Ventura County, California wildfire
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: View of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Homes burned to the ground in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is fully involved in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is fully involved in fire and others destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: A home is fully involved in fire and others destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: View of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SYLMAR, CA, DECEMBER 5: Flames encroach on structures in the hills above Sylmar fire from helicopter in Los Angeles County, Calif., on Dec. 5, 2017. (Photo by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - FEBRUARY 25: LA County Fire helicopters make water drops to halt forward progress of the10 acre brush fire called the Mulholland Fire in the western Malibu hills near the Ventura County line Thursday morning as hand crews work to cut a control line around the blaze. A fire crew inmate suffered major injuries from fallng rock while battling the fire and was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MALIBU, CA - FEBRUARY 25: LA County Fire helicopters make water drops to halt forward progress of the10 acre brush fire called the Mulholland Fire in the western Malibu hills near the Ventura County line Thursday morning as hand crews work to cut a control line around the blaze. A fire crew inmate suffered major injuries from fallng rock while battling the fire and was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA COUNTY, CA - DECEMBER 5: Dozens of homes destroyed in view of the Thomas fire from helicopter in on Dec. 5, 2017 in Ventura County, California. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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The wildfire remained a threat to some 18,000 homes and other structures in the communities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito along California's scenic coastline, especially if hot, dry Santa Ana winds return.

Red-flag warnings, issued for extreme fire weather conditions in the area, were extended through Friday morning.

"Right now, there really is a fear in the community. We're very used to fire, but the magnitude of this one is something that we haven't seen," Monique Limon, a state assembly member whose districts includes parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, told Reuters

Many public schools in the Santa Barbara area canceled classes this week and will not reopen until the annual winter break ends in January.

Some of the other fires burning over the past week in San Diego and Los Angeles counties have largely been brought under control.

Investigators determined that the Skirball Fire, which destroyed six homes in Los Angeles' wealthy Bel-Air neighborhood and scorched a building at a winery owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, was started by a cooking fire at a homeless encampment, the Los Angeles Fire Department said earlier this week.

The Lilac Fire, which burned more than 4,000 acres (1,620 hectares) in northern San Diego County and destroyed 157 structures, was 97 percent contained as of Thursday, Cal Fire said.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

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