- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 9, 2009

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — After days of torrid temperatures and ferocious wind, morning fog gave some relief Saturday to firefighters battling the wildfire that has burned 80 homes and forced 30,000 people to flee.

The 8,700-acre blaze was 30 percent contained, Santa Barbara County Deputy Fire Chief Chris Hahn said. Hahn warned, however, that the cooler weather may not last.

“The weather tends to be a little fickle around here … so our guard is up,” he said at a morning news conference.

Authorities said the blaze had burned across more than 13 square miles.

City Fire Chief Andrew DiMizio said the wildfire remained a “sleeping giant” along its eastern flank.

Some 3,500 homes were still considered threatened and 30,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders. Some have been living in shelters for days. An additional 23,000 people had been warned to remain ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

Authorities want to get people back into their homes as soon as possible but safety comes first, Hahn said.

“Sundowners,” fierce local winds that sweep down the mountain slopes from north to south and out to sea, were blamed for stoking what had been a small wildfire into a savage inferno that destroyed homes, some of them multimillion-dollar mansions in canyons and ridges.

The National Weather Service said the sharp north-to-south difference in atmospheric pressure creating the wind was expected to weaken but remain strong enough to produce gusts through Saturday, and possibly until Sunday morning.

About 4,000 firefighters were battling the blaze along a five-mile front, aided by fleets of aircrafts that included a DC-10 jumbo tanker capable of dumping huge loads of retardant.

Thirteen firefighters had been injured, including three whose engine was overrun by flames on Wednesday.

The cause of the blaze, which broke out Tuesday, remained under investigation.

&#8226: Associated Press writers Amy Taxin and Jeff Wilson contributed to this report.



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