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Wildfire destroys several homes in California

world Updated: May 07, 2009 13:15 IST

AFP
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A wind-driven wildfire destroyed homes and forced thousands of residents to flee in the California coastal town of Santa Barbara on Wednesday, officials said.

Local television footage showed several hillside properties in the exclusive region north of Los Angeles engulfed in flames and thick smoke as the fast-moving fire swept across the area.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department officials said three firefighters had been injured in the blaze, while around 8,000 people were ordered to evacuate after the fire exploded into life as local winds known as "Sundowners" picked up.

Some 1,300 firefighters backed by five water-dropping helicopters were tackling the blaze, which had scorched around 500 acres (202 hectares).

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a local state of emergency in the region.

California is frequently hit by scorching wildfires due to its dry climate, Santa Ana winds 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.