Wildfire burns 75 homes in Santa Barbara | world | Hindustan Times
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Wildfire burns 75 homes in Santa Barbara

world Updated: May 08, 2009 11:33 IST

Paradise is not lost, but it's in flames_again.

The seasonal wildfires that menace this idyllic coastal city roared to life earlier than usual but with all-too-familiar ferocity, damaging or destroying 75 homes and forcing about 12,000 people to flee.

The fire was just the latest to ravage the area known as the American Riviera, home to screen stars, former presidents and Oprah Winfrey. The blaze reached the burn area of another wildfire that just six months ago destroyed about 200 homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito.

By day's end, state officials said the latest fire grew from 1,300 acres (526 hectares) to more than 2,700 acres (1,100 hectares) _ roughly 4 square miles (10 sq. kilometers). Firefighters were on alert for a predicted return of a "sundowner" _ fierce winds that late in the day can sweep down from the Santa Ynez Mountains towering close behind Santa Barbara.

The wind did kick up, but it blew from the ocean pushing the fire up into the mountains and away from homes.

A sundowner on Wednesday afternoon turned a slumbering brush fire on rugged slopes above the city into a towering wildfire that hurled flames into homes and spit embers into more distant neighborhoods. About 4,700 homes remained evacuated, and another 12,000 people were advised to be ready to leave.

About 2,300 firefighters from many departments were on the lines, aided by aircraft. The fire was just 10 percent contained. Authorities reported 10 firefighters injured, including three who sheltered in a house during a firestorm. They were in good condition at a Los Angeles burn center but two faced surgery. Other injuries ranged from smoke inhalation to ankle sprains.

The city's location on the state's central coast gives it some of the best weather in the world and views of the Pacific Ocean. Now with a population of about 90,000, it dates to the Spanish colonial era of California and a Roman Catholic mission established in the 1780s is a major tourist draw.

Ronald Reagan's Rancho del Cielo in the mountains became his western retreat during his presidency. In 1992 President-elect Bill Clinton and his family spent a pre-inaugural vacation at an estate in nearby Summerland.

Over the decades, celebrities ranging from actors Charlie Chaplin to Rob Lowe have been drawn to the area. In 2007, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama made a speech on a Santa Barbara hillside en route to a celebrity-studded fundraiser at Winfrey's estate in nearby Montecito.