Santa Barbara wildfire 70 percent contained |

Santa Barbara wildfire 70 percent contained

SANTA BARBARA ” Firefighters aided by “May gray” worked Monday to complete containment lines around a destructive wildfire before the return of winds that might push back the layer of moist ocean air and whip the blaze back to life.

The burn area was 70 percent encircled after several days of good weather, but forecasters predicted breezes would become increasingly stronger winds through midweek, reaching 20 mph to 30 mph with gusts to 50 mph by Wednesday night.

“We’re optimistic,” said Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki. “We’re trying to button this up before the weather changes.”

Full containment was predicted by Wednesday.

The 8,733-acre fire ” equal to about 131/2 square miles ” destroyed 77 homes and damaged 22 others, according to county estimates. Sixty outbuildings were also destroyed and 69 others were damaged.

Approximately 145 homes remained evacuated, affecting some 360 people, down from 30,500 people at the fire’s height.

The fire broke out May 5 above Santa Barbara on slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The next afternoon the area was hit by a “sundowner,” a warm wind that blows down out of canyons and passes, sending flames into outlying neighborhoods. A sundowner hit again the following night, but by the weekend fire-suppressing fog and low clouds had pushed back ashore from the Pacific.

“May gray” and “June gloom” are a pattern of Southern California coastal weather but are more often associated with spoiling beach outings during late spring and early summer than with helping squelch wildfires.

Firefighters were mainly dousing hot spots and carving containment lines in wilderness north of the city in Los Padres National Forest, said county spokeswoman Sarah Gibson.

“There is no open flame,” Gibson said.

Investigators believe sparks from a power tool being used to clear brush ignited the fire and they were seeking public help in identifying whoever was doing that work.

Authorities have reported 28 injuries among the more than 4,000 firefighters on the scene. Firefighting costs have reached $10.8 million.

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