Cooler weather helps tame California blaze

Cooler weather helps tame California blaze

10 May 2009

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USA — Residents in all but a few neighborhoods of Santa Barbara have been allowed back in their homes as the arrival of cooler, moist ocean air allowed firefighters to gain the upper hand on a wildfire that destroyed more than 30 homes.

What a difference a couple days makes,” Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. David Sadecki said Sunday as about 4,500 firefighters continued battling the Jesusita Fire.

“Where it is real critical, where the homes are, it’s in really good shape,” he said.

State, federal and local fire officials reported the fire was 55 percent contained after burning 8,733 acres of land in the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains and the foothills that run into the coastal city. Santa Barbara, which is 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, is home to or a vacation getaway for many celebrities and wealthy people.

Fire officials said investigators have traced the fire’s start to power tools used to clear vegetation along the Jesusita Trail in the foothills above Santa Barbara, according to a statement on the U.S. Forest Service’s fire website. They ask the public’s help in identifying anyone doing that work there last Monday or Tuesday.

The fire exploded last week with a combination of temperatures above 100 degrees, extremely low humidity and high afternoon winds that sent flames racing down canyons and into residential neighborhoods.

Cooler ocean breezes moved in Friday. By Sunday, temperatures were between 65 and 75 degrees, and moist marine fog moved into low elevations. In the mountains, the sky was clear and humidity low; those conditions helped bring the fire toward the mountain tops, away from people and development, Sadecki said.

More than half a dozen firefighting airplanes and 14 helicopters were pounding the fire’s hot spots with water and retardant while ground crews dug containment lines aimed at stopping the fire and denying it fuel after it reaches the ridgeline.

Firefighters were in a race to knock out the fire before a return of drier conditions and high afternoon winds, which forecasters say will return as early as Tuesday, Sadecki said. “It’s still an out-of-control, uncontained brush fire.”

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Marianne Garrity said fire officials believe they can contain the fire by Tuesday.

Garrity said 31 homes were destroyed, plus two garages, and 47 more residences were damaged. Only 350 people remained under mandatory evacuation orders.

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