Winds hamper containment of Santa Barbara wildfire

Winds hamper containment of Santa Barbara wildfire

13 May 2009

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A new round of winds could delay full containment of the Santa Barbara wildfire by a week, firefighters said Wednesday.

Crews were able to contain about 80 percent of the fire before a forecast for dry and gusty weather forced them to move the date for estimated full containment back a week to May 20.

Humidity is dropping and winds could gust to 60 mph Wednesday afternoon, forecasters said.

The winds could push the fire into areas where about 145 homes are still threatened, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki said. Those homes were evacuated last week and residents have not been allowed to return.

The fire started on May 5 and has blackened 8,733 acres, destroyed 78 homes, damaged 22 and injured 29 firefighters. Investigators said it may have been caused by someone clearing brush with a power tool.

The blaze has been essentially static through the last few days of cooler, humid weather marked by morning coastal fog.

“There are little pockets of active flame,” Sadecki said. And there was no fog Wednesday.

“We woke up to sunshine instead of the marine layer,” Sadecki said. “That’s usually a pretty good indicator here in Santa Barbara that we’re in a for a hot, dry day.”

The fire has been contained in the most populated areas. About 30,000 people were forced from their homes during the firefight and thousands more were warned to be ready to go. Most evacuation orders were lifted late last week.

“The area that’s left to contain is the most difficult … extremely steep and very tall brush,” he said. “The crews that are in there are having a very difficult time,” Sadecki said.

Most of the firefighter injuries were minor but twoVentura County firefighters were burned and a third suffered smoke inhalation when they were trapped in a burning home they had tried to protect.

FirefighterRobert Lopez, 44, ofPort Hueneme, was the only one still hospitalized Wednesday. He had second- and third-degree burns over 15 percent of his body and underwent surgery on Tuesday at the Grossman Burn Center in Los Angeles.

Burn center spokesman Roy Forbes said the procedure went well, but Lopez would likely remain hospitalized for at least six more days.

The U.S. Forest Service, meanwhile, said Los Padres National Forest lands above Santa Barbara and neighboring Montecito and Goleta would be closed until the wildfire is fully suppressed.

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