Mon, Jul 17, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Firefighters battle growing blaze near Santa Barbara

Reuters, LOS ANGELES

Firefighters on Saturday battled to gain control of a destructive wildfire burning near Santa Barbara, California, that mushroomed in size overnight, pushed by gusty offshore winds into dry brush that has not burned in decades.

The Whittier Fire, which broke out on July 8 and has already destroyed eight homes, had been more than 50 percent contained on Friday before so-called “Sundowner” winds picked up in the evening, according to a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Web site.

Nearly 3,000 people who were forced to flee their homes near Cachuma Lake and the community of Goleta remained under evacuation orders as fire officials said another evening of Sundowners could drive the flames toward populated areas.

“The fire continues burning in an area above the community of Goleta and crews continue to build containment and contingency lines to hold the fire in check,” Cal Fire said on the Inciweb fire-tracking Web site. “The east and west flanks of the fire continue to burn towards established containment lines.”

More than 1,600 firefighters were working the blaze, assisted by water-dropping planes and helicopters. Highway 154 was shut down in both directions and the Los Padres National Park was closed to the public. Evacuation shelters were opened at a high school in Goleta.

The conflagration was being fed by brush and vegetation that had not burned since 1955, according to fire officials.

“The combination of old, dry fuels with a newly cured heavy grass crop contributed to the rapid growth of this fire,” Cal Fire said. “Large, old oak trees are continuing to burn well after the fire has past, leaving hazardous snags along highways and firelines.”

The Whittier Fire is among more than 50 large, active wildfires burning across the US West as forecasters warned that hot, dry conditions could persist, creating tinderbox conditions.

Flames have charred more than twice as much land in California so far this year compared with a year earlier, according to Cal Fire.

Still, firefighters have made significant gains against the so-called Wall Fire, which had damaged or destroyed 44 homes in Butte County and more than 60 other structures, calling it mostly contained as of Saturday. The Alamo Firewas said to be 92 percent contained as of Saturday morning.

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