Santa Barbara fire is 30 percent contained |

Santa Barbara fire is 30 percent contained

Associated Press Writer

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. ” After days of torrid temperatures and ferocious winds, morning fog gave some relief Saturday to firefighters battling a wildfire that burned 80 homes and forced 30,000 people to flee.

The 8,700-acre blaze was 30 percent contained, Santa Barbara County Deputy Fire Chief Chris Hahn said. Hahn warned, however, that the cooler weather may not last.

“The weather tends to be a little fickle around here…so our guard is up,” he said at a morning news conference.

Some 3,500 homes remained threatened and 30,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders. Some have been living in shelters for days. Another 23,000 people were warned to remain ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Authorities want to get people back into their homes as soon as possible but safety comes first, Hahn said.

City Fire Chief Andrew DiMizio said firefighters turned “a significant corner” by containing the fire along the city’s northern boundary but that it remained a “sleeping giant” along the eastern flank.

“Sundowners,” fierce local winds that sweep down the mountain slopes from north to south and out to sea, are being blamed for stoking a small wildfire into a savage inferno that razed or ravaged homes, some of them multimillion-dollar mansions in canyons and ridges.

Thirteen firefighters have been injured, including three whose engine was overrun by flames on Wednesday. A fire captain who suffered smoke inhalation has been released from the hospital, Hahn said.

The National Weather Service said the sharp north-to-south pressure gradient creating the winds was expected to weaken but remain strong enough to produce gusts through Saturday, and possibly until Sunday morning.

About 4,000 firefighters were battling the blaze along a five-mile front, aided by fleets of aircrafts that included a DC-10 jumbo tanker capable of dumping huge loads of retardant.

On Friday columns of smoke boiled off the Santa Ynez Mountains after a fierce overnight battle with the blaze, repeating a pattern of relative calm in daylight and explosive behavior when winds arrive in the evenings.

The city and adjacent communities, pinched between the coast on the south and the rugged mountains on the north, are subject to the sundowners.

The cause of the blaze, which broke out Tuesday, remained under investigation.

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