USA — A fire that destroyed 77 homes and threatened thousands more in Santa Barbara, California was probably caused when workmen clearing brush to create a fire safe zone inadvertently set it ablaze, officials said Monday. Sparks from a power tool being used to clear brush apparently ignited the so-called Jesusita Trail blaze last Tuesday. Authorities on Monday sought public help to identify those clearing brush on private land near the Jesusita Trail around the time that the fire erupted.
They stressed that the need for residents in fire-prone areas to clear defensible spaces around their homes, but urged them to take extreme caution.
“Any time you use any power tool, there’s always a possibility, especially if the conditions are right,” said Joe Waterman, the overall fire commander from the California Department ofForestry and Fire Protection.
Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin added, “Many more homes would have burned had they not done their defensible space work.”
The blaze occurred in an area of multimillion dollar homes perched on the mountains and canyons overlooking thePacific Ocean and the city of Santa Barbara. Fanned by strong winds it scorched over 3,500 hectares and forced more than 30,000 residents to evacuate.
The fire came unusually early in a season that is predicted to present a heightened risk ofwildfire due to high temperatures, low winter rains and demographic shifts that have sent more people to live in closer proximity to wildland areas.