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30,000 ordered to flee Calif. wildfire

Blaze strikes Santa Barbara

A firefighting air tanker yesterday dropped retardant to try to stop the advance of a wildfire near Santa Barbara, Calif. A firefighting air tanker yesterday dropped retardant to try to stop the advance of a wildfire near Santa Barbara, Calif. (David Mcnew/Getty Images)
By Raquel Maria Dillon
Associated Press / May 9, 2009
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Turning the horizon a lurid orange and raining embers on roofs as it advanced, a raging wildfire that has destroyed scores of homes in the hills menaced this celebrity enclave and other coastal towns yesterday, and the number of people ordered to flee climbed to 30,000.

Authorities warned that an additional 23,000 to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

Columns of smoke rose off the Santa Ynez Mountains as the 4-day-old blaze - fanned by "sundowner" winds that sweep down the slopes in the evening - blew up from 2,700 acres to 3,500 in less than a day, creating a firefighting front 5 miles long.

"It's crazy. The whole mountain looked like an inferno," said Maria Martinez, 50, who with her fiancé hurriedly left her home in San Marcos Pass, on the edge of Santa Barbara. The couple went to an evacuation center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

An unknown number of homes were destroyed in the blowup that began Thursday night, in addition to about 75 houses that burned the night before on the ridges and in the canyons above Santa Barbara.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

The number of people ordered to evacuate rose to 30,500 from 12,000 the night before as the blaze pushed west toward neighboring Goleta and east toward well-to-do Montecito.

"Literally last night, all hell broke loose," Fire Chief Andrew DiMizio said yesterday morning, recounting firefighters' efforts to put out roof fires and keep flames out of his section of the city.

More than 2,300 firefighters battled the blaze, using at least 246 engines, 14 air tankers, and 15 helicopters. A DC-10 jumbo jet tanker capable of dumping huge loads of retardant began making runs on the fire in the afternoon.