1,200 homes evacuated as Calif. wildfire slows
Wednesday, May 6th 2009, 12:18 pm
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) -- Helicopters dropping water during the night and calming wind early Wednesday helped crews hold back a wildfire that forced the evacuation of 1,200 homes.
Some 2,000 homes were threatened by the fire north of the city that portended an early start to California's annual wildfire siege.
"Things are pretty stable from where they were last night," Santa Barbara County fire spokeswoman Pat Wheatley said.
However, the National Weather Service said the wind could pick up later in the day, with gusts to 40 mph by midday.
The fire had burned 196 acres of brush, said Fire Chief Tom Franklin. An earlier estimate of about 400 acres burned was inaccurate, he said.
No buildings had been lost but flames were within a half-mile of some structures.
Helicopters, normally grounded after dark, dropped water on the fire during much of the night. They were joined during the day Wednesday by water-dropping airplanes.
"It's going to be mostly an air show today," Franklin said. Fire engines were "sitting at homes, waiting for the fire to come down," he added.
Mandatory evacuations were in effect for residential areas spanning a region about 2 1/2 miles wide, officials said. At least five schools were scheduled to be closed Wednesday.
The fire began Tuesday in the foothills above San Roque Canyon and grew quickly grew. The cause was not known, officials said.
Less than six months ago, a wind-driven, 2,000-acre blaze destroyed more than 200 homes in Santa Barbara and neighboring Montecito.
Elsewhere, crews In rural southeastern Arizona battled a wildfire that had destroyed three houses near Sierra Vista and injured one person. The fire had charred about 1,500 acres of grass, dry brush and scattered trees near Fort Huachuca. Containment was estimated at 25 percent early Wednesday.