LOS ANGELES – Weary California firefighters braced on Sunday for another heat wave in the next few days as they battled to bring two major blazes threatening towns along the central coast under control.
Residents in more than 2,600 homes in the path of a 9,367 acre (3.642 hectares) fire in the Santa Barbara area were still under evacuation orders. Families who live in another 850 houses were warned to be ready to leave at short notice, county officials said.
Cooler weather on Saturday helped fire crews make some headway against a six-day old fire raging in rugged terrain near the small town of Goleta, about eight miles (13 kms) from Santa Barbara.
But with the fire only 28 percent contained, temperatures rose and humidity dropped on Sunday ahead of what forecasters warned would be another heat wave ahead with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees F (38 degrees C) in many areas.
“Any time temperatures increase and relative humidity goes down, the fuels get drier and you have a more combustible situation. There is a lot of concern for firefighter safety,” said Karen McKinley, spokeswoman for the National Forest Service.
“We’ve got increased temperatures and increased winds today. Canyons and passes tend to channel winds, so what could happen is that the winds could channel the fire down San Marco pass and that would hit Goleta and Santa Barbara,” she said.
The blaze near Goleta is one of more than 1,700 to hit central and northern California since June 21, destroying at least 69 homes, charring 520,000 acres (210,000 hectares) and killing one firefighter, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Saturday.
Most were caused by lightning strikes and have been contained, but about 330 are still burning.
Further north, a fire raging along the spectacular Big Sur coast, about 140 miles (225 km) south of San Francisco, continued to threaten nearly 1,700 homes. Flames have consumed more than 72,000 acres (29,000 hectares) in the past two weeks and mandatory evacuations are in effect.
Fire crews have managed to defend the village of Big Sur but the fire is only 11 percent contained and is expected to rage until the end of July, fire officials said.