Flames advance on Santa Barbara

Flames advance on Santa Barbara

6 May 2009

published by www.usatoday.com


High winds and scorching temperatures pushed a mountain wildfire into the seaside resort community of Santa Barbara, Calif., on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing thousands of people to flee.

“The weather has gone from pretty mild to extreme,” Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. David Sadecki said. “It’s extremely dangerous.”

Fire officials extended mandatory evacuations to at least 2,000 homes, up from 1,200 a day earlier. Multiple homes could be seen engulfed in flames along hillsides in video shot from TV helicopters.

The fire burned 500 acres by 6 p.m. and remained uncontained, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on its website. A state of emergency proclamation by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said more than 8,000 people were evacuated, according to the Associated Press.

County spokeswoman Kirsten Deshler said the evacuation order was extended to businesses on much of State Street, the main street of the city. She said the fire had reached the city’s borders.

Sadecki said fire officials have unconfirmed reports that two firefighters were injured by flames.

The fire had been relatively quiet overnight and for much of the day but began moving to the south, toward Mission Canyon and the city of Santa Barbara, when winds picked up at midafternoon.

“A huge smoke column is covering Santa Barbara City,” Sadecki said. “We have structure protection strike teams moving in. All hands are basically on this fire.”

Flames were whipped by wind gusts of 50 mph or more, temperatures over 100 degrees and low humidity, conditions that quickly dry out brush that is the fuel for fires in Southern California, he said.

In parts of Santa Barbara, home to celebrities, millionaires and a campus of the University of California system, life was near normal despite the threat looming in the rugged Santa Ynez mountains above.

At the James Joyce bar, bartender Rebecca Weintraub said business appeared unaffected despite a cloud of smoke over the city.

“It’s pretty orange and cloudy out — it looks kind of creepy,” she said.

County spokeswoman Pat Wheatley said an evacuation center had been moved from a church to a larger facility at Dos Pueblos High School, farther from the smoke.

The Red Cross provided assistance though most people had found other shelter.

There were 884 firefighters battling the blaze, along with six airplanes and five state helicopters dumping fire retardant and water, she said.

Firefighters named the blaze the Jesusita Fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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