1,200 homes evacuated as S. Calif. wildfire grows

1,200 homes evacuated as S. Calif. wildfire grows

6 May 2009

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Helicopters soaked hillsides in the darkness early Wednesday in an attempt to hold off a wildfire looming in the foothills above the city.

Some 2,000 homes were threatened by the 400-acre fire that portended an early start to California’s annual wildfire siege. About 1,200 homes were evacuated.

The area’s “sundowner” winds were not especially harsh as night fell Tuesday, leaving the fire’s growth slow.

“It was very unexpected and a very pleasant surprise,” Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki told KNBC-TV. “Last night the winds blew very hard all night long. If this had happened last night we’d be in a world of hurt.”

No structures had been lost, but flames pulled within a half-mile of some neighborhoods and there was zero containment, said county spokeswoman Pat Wheatley.

The blaze was pushed by 20-30 mph winds that calmed slightly after midnight, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Meier. Gusts of up to 50 mph were felt earlier Tuesday. Winds were blowing out of the north-northwest and a wind advisory was in effect for the area until 9 a.m. Wednesday.

“There are a number of areas burning pretty vigorously in the upper Mission Canyon area. Those are the areas that are a concern right now,” said Santa Barbara City Fire spokesman John Ahlman.

The fire began Tuesday afternoon in the foothills above San Roque Canyon and quickly grew. The cause is not known, Sadecki said.

Fourteen strike teams, including 70 engines and three helicopters, battled the blaze. The helicopters, often grounded after dark, were expected to fly through the night, Sadecki said.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for neighborhoods spanning an area about 2 1/2 miles wide, officials said.

In rural southeastern Arizona, about 20 firefighters were battling a wildfire that had burned four or five homes and injured one person. The fire had scorched about 2,000 acres of rolling grassland, dry brush and scattered trees near Fort Huachuca.

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