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Calmer winds slow Santa Barbara fire [Updated]

May 6, 2009 |  6:07 am


[Updated, 7:41 a.m.:  Fire officials say the fire has consumed 196 acres, not 420 as reported previously.]

A brush fire in the Santa Barbara foothills slowed down considerably overnight as winds calmed and firefighters employed nighttime air water drops to battle the blaze.

The blaze forced the evacuation of about 1,000 homes. Fire officials said today that no new evacuations were planned and they were focusing on containment. They warned that hot, dry winds could return today and push the fire closer to homes. 

The Jesusita fire started about 1:50 p.m. Tuesday, racing through thick chaparral on the slopes above San Roque Canyon. It was burning about a mile west of November's Tea Fire, which destroyed more than 200 homes in Santa Barbara and Montecito.

At nightfall, authorities said they knew of no structures destroyed, despite the tower of brownish-white smoke that loomed over the ridgelines. But they warned that the flames were just half a mile from homes and moving toward the city. Some 2,000 structures were threatened as of last night, officials said.

For hours last night, three helicopters dropped water on the advancing blaze. About 70 engines and several hundred firefighters were either at the scene or on the way from other areas.

Using a revers- 911 system, officials notified residents in areas north of California 192 to pack up. Those in the more densely populated Mission Canyon neighborhood below the fire were placed on alert.

"We don't want them to stay until the last minute and then leave," said David Sadecki, a Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman. "That's when people get stranded on roads and get hurt."

Authorities said the flames knocked out a transformer, triggering sporadic power outages in the city.

School officials canceled today's classes at five schools.

Matthew Campbell, 52, already had doused his roof with water and packed his car with family photos and important documents. He had been through the drill before during the Tea Fire but was still reluctant to leave.

"I refuse to believe the house is going to burn, at least not in May," he said. When a sheriff's deputy drove up moments later, Campbell overcame his skepticism. She asked him to leave, and he did.

-- Catherine Saillant and Steve Chawkins
An update on the fire 

More photos from the fire zone

Photo: Seldon Edner watches the fire burn in the hills above his home in the Mission Canyon area of Santa Barbara. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times