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Firefighters battle wind-fed California blaze

Firefighters battled to get a grip on a wind-driven wildfire raging in California that has destroyed more than 70 houses and forced thousands to flee.

The inferno in the hills around the upmarket up·mar·ket  
Appealing to or designed for high-income consumers; upscale: "He turned up in well-cut clothes . . . and upmarket felt hats" New Yorker.
 coastal town of Santa Barbara Santa Barbara (săn'tə bär`brə, –bərə), city (1990 pop. 85,571), seat of Santa Barbara co., S Calif., on the Pacific Ocean; inc. 1850. , northwest of Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. , exploded into life on Wednesday as powerful hot gusts and record temperatures created a perfect storm of fire conditions.

Around 15,000 residents of the picturesque city had been evacuated Thursday as an army of 2,300 firefighters tackled the flames.

As of 7:00 pm (0200 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) See UTC.

GMT - Universal Time 1
), the fire was 10 percent contained and had burned through some 2,739 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection For other uses of "CDF", see CDF (disambiguation).

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) or CAL FIRE is the State of California's agency responsible for the administration of the state's private and public forests.

Notorious local gusts known as "sundowners" that had failed to materialize earlier in the day as forecast arrived late Thursday.

Television images showed winds picking up, hampering the work of weary fire crew that had earlier welcomed a brief respite from the conditions.

Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Tom Franklin stressed that the area was "not out of the woods."

Authorities said the fire destroyed 75 homes and that 3,500 more properties and 100 shops were threatened by the blaze.

Franklin said earlier Thursday the destruction could have been worse.

"By all rights there maybe should have been hundreds of homes lost, due to the fuel in that canyon and the 70 mile per hour winds," Franklin said. "There was some real effort made on that fire front and some real saves made."

So far 10 firefighters had been injured in the fire. Three were hospitalized with burns and smoke inhalation Smoke Inhalation Definition

Smoke inhalation is breathing in the harmful gases, vapors, and particulate matter contained in smoke.

Smoke inhalation typically occurs in victims or firefighters caught in structural fires.
 after a home they were protecting was suddenly engulfed by flames. The firefighters were in a stable condition Thursday.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency to help release resources to fight the blaze.

Schwarzenegger, who toured the area early Thursday, told reporters at a morning briefing that firefighters were hampered by terrain and the weather.

"This fire has been a great challenge, there's no two ways about it," Schwarzenegger said. "The 50 mph winds, the lack of access to the terrain and the dense brush -- all this creates great challenges."

After battling through the night on Wednesday, firefighters got a clearer picture of the devastation caused by the fire as dawn broke, with hillsides reduced to an eerie moonscape moon·scape  
1. A view or picture of the surface of the moon.

2. A desolate landscape.

[moon + (land)scape.
 of white ash and smoldering smol·der also smoul·der  
intr.v. smol·dered, smol·der·ing, smol·ders
1. To burn with little smoke and no flame.


The National Weather Service extended an alert for more gusts to reappear until Saturday morning and authorities appealed to residents to be ready to evacuate rapidly.

"Get out early -- that's our message," said Captain Dave Sadecki of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

"If you've been warned, that means pack your car. If you're told to evacuate that means put the keys in ignition and leave."

California is frequently hit by scorching scorch  
v. scorched, scorch·ing, scorch·es
1. To burn superficially so as to discolor or damage the texture of. See Synonyms at burn1.

 wildfires due to its dry climate, Santa Ana winds Santa Ana Winds may refer to:
1. Santa Ana wind, a local Southern California reference to Föhn winds, a meteorological phenomenon occurring as a layer of wind is forced over a mountain range -- drying the air -- which then passes over the crest and begins to move downslope --
 and recent housing booms that have seen housing spread rapidly into rural and densely forested areas.

In 2007, California suffered devastation from wildfires among the worst in its history that left eight people dead, gutted 2,000 homes, displaced 640,000 people and caused one billion dollars in damage.

Last November at least 100 homes were destroyed by a wildfire in the celebrity enclave of Montecito near Santa Barbara.
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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:May 8, 2009
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