Thousands return home as firefighters attack California blaze

Thousands return home as firefighters attack California blaze

10 May 2009

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Thousands of residents forced to flee a bushfire raging in California have returned home as cooler weather allowed firefighters to gain the upper hand on the blaze.

A moist layer of marine mist from the Pacific Ocean had drifted over the coastal town of Santa Barbara after days of sizzling temperatures and powerful local gusts sent the fire roaring out of control.

The benign weather enabled firefighters to increase containment of the blaze to 40 per cent, officials said. So far, the flames have destroyed or damaged some 80 homes and scorched 3,500 hectares.

Fire officials expressed optimism that the weather break would see them make further inroads into the blaze, which was now burning away from Santa Barbara and into unpopulated mountain areas.

“We’re going from a defensive in the past few days to an offensive,” said fire commander Kevin Wallace.

“We’re going to start chasing the fire and not have it chase us.”

Fire commanders said the fire could be fully contained by Wednesday but cautioned that the weather conditions which fuelled the fire could return.

“The weather tends to be a little fickle around here, so we’re keeping our guard up,” Santa Barbara County deputy fire chief Chris Hahn.

Later Saturday, officials said most mandatory evacuation orders – which had forced 30,500 people to leave their homes – had been lifted. Residents were allowed to return in phases throughout the day.

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