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Wildfire burns Santa Barbara homes
Posted on: 07-05-2009 , 04:: | DY365 Bureau

TV news helicopters showed many homes ablaze but the number could not be immediately determined because of thick smoke columns that scattered embers over the city and streamed out over the Pacific Ocean.

Huge mansions and humble homes alike were reduced to rubble, leaving palm trees swaying over gutted ruins.

The fire slumbered at 196 acres most of the day when winds were calm, then exploded as gusts up to 50 mph hurled the fire from north to south into neighborhoods.

By sunset it was 500 acres and winds were down to 25 mph, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki said.

Authorities could not immediately estimate the number of lost structures but aerial footage showed five or more luxury homes burning along a crest-top road. Many flare-ups dotting the residential hills were apparently burning homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokesman Drew Sugars said 5,430 homes were under mandatory evacuation. The estimated population of those homes was 13,575 people, he said.

Three Ventura County firefighters received minor to moderate burns and respiratory injuries when their fire engine was overtaken by flames as they tried to protect a structure, Ventura County Fire department spokesman Bill Nash said. Their fire engine was heavily damaged in the incident and an accident review team was en route to the scene to determine what had happened.
The three were taken by helicopter to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles.

Mayor Marty Blum said other firefighters remained perilously close to the flames.

"We have got a couple firefighters in a real tentative situation up there surrounded by some flames, so we are hoping to get them out of there," Blum told KABC-TV.

Jeff Zimmerman, a retired fire captain, told KABC he saw two civilians with minor and second-degree burns.

One firefighter suffered a head injury, earlier in the day.

More than 800 firefighters were on the lines, and 20 more strike teams totaling about 1,300 firefighters were requested.

"The firefighters are picking houses and seeing if they can make a stand," Sadecki said. City Fire Department Capt. Mike dePonce told the he could see at least five homes burning from his vantage point shortly after 6 p.m.

The blaze bore down on the city at frightening speed, said Chad Jenson, a food server at Giovanni's Pizza.

"The sky is just deep orange and black, pretty much our whole hillside is going down," Jenson said.

In a city that has experienced a number of wildfires, Jenson said this one was as close to the city center as any he had seen. Less than six months ago a fire destroyed more than 200 homes in Santa Barbara and neighboring Montecito and in 1990, the infamous Painted Cave Fire killed one and destroyed 641 homes, apartments and other structures in the county.

After Tuesday's fire broke out, 1,200 homes were ordered evacuated. That number was expanded to 5,430 on Wednesday.



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