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California fires threaten Big Sur, Santa Barbara County

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BIG SUR, California -- Fast-moving flames early Friday burned the steep mountainsides a mile from homes on the northern edge of Goleta, California, near Santa Barbara.

Mandatory evacuations ordered Thursday morning for mountain home communities outside Goleta were widened Thursday night as winds kicked up after sundown, making it tougher to fight the fire, a state fire spokesman said.

Farther north up the California coast, 1,400 residents of Big Sur were ordered to leave their homes because of the Basin Complex Fire, which has burned about 65,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest in the last two weeks. At least 20 homes have been destroyed.

Besides forcing residents from their homes, the fire also is likely to deter tourists, who would usually flock to the area for the July Fourth holiday.

"I'm sure the season is just toast," Kurt Mayer, who stayed to defend his Big Sur Deli despite mandatory evacuation orders, told The Associated Press. "Usually the busiest time is July and August, so I'm sure it's just going to be zero."

The Gap Fire near Goleta has been declared the state's top priority Friday, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proclaimed a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County.

The fire was burning in steep and hard to reach terrain, and some of the brush fueling it has not burned in 20 years, a state fire spokesman said. No buildings have been lost yet, and no injuries were reported there.

In three days, the Gap Fire has charred 3,000 acres, a fraction of the half-million acres burned by more than 1,700 California wildfires sparked by lightning in the past two weeks.

All but about 100 of the fires are considered contained, but 20,000 federal, state and local firefighters are struggling to prevent major blazes from spreading into residential areas.

There has been one death connected to the fires -- a 63-year-old volunteer who fell ill Wednesday while he working as a lookout, watching for spot fires in Mendocino County, north of San Francisco, according to Diedre Locati, a state fire spokeswoman.

Bob Roland died at the Ukiah Valley Medical Center, where he was taken after other volunteers noticed he was getting pale and fatigued, Locati said.

In Big Sur, Dave Egbert defied the evacuation order and spent Thursday afternoon boarding up the windows of his home, hoping to save it from catching fire.

"I've been putting up this plywood because that's going to protect the house from any radiant heat," Egbert said. "That's the big thing I'm trying to do right now."

Egbert said he uses the house to host a syndicated TV garden show.

"If I don't have a house, I don't have a livelihood," he said. "So I have to keep the house going as long as I can."

Big Sur's famous Ventana Inn & Spa resort, which is undergoing an $18 million renovation, also is threatened.

Thirty-five miles of Highway 1 along the Pacific coast has been closed because of the Basin Complex Fire.

The Basin Complex Fire was 5 percent contained, while the Indians Fire -- which burned more than 80,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest -- was 95 percent contained by Thursday evening, fire officials said.

(Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.)

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