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Santa Barbara brush fire slows as winds calm down

May 6, 2009 |  8:58 am

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A brush fire in the Santa Barbara foothills slowed considerably overnight as winds calmed and firefighters employed water drops from the air to battle the blaze, which forced the evacuation of 1,000 homes.

Fire officials, who were upbeat at a news conference this morning, said no new evacuations were planned and that they were focusing on containment.

They reduced their estimate of the fire's size from 420 acres to 196 acres, saying that thick smoke overnight led to the miscalculation by aerial observers. No structures have been destroyed.

"I'm guardedly optimistic," said interim Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Andrew DiMizio. "This is the first time in my career I've used those words."

Flames worked their way Tuesday night through brush that had not burned in decades, but the wildfire was slowed by moisture levels higher than they are during a typical autumn fire season.

Still, officials said the Jesusita blaze was not contained and could not predict when it might be.

Five helicopters and six fixed-wing aircraft will dump water and chemical retardants on the flames today. Forecasts call for winds to pick up this afternoon, gusting as high as 55 mph.

The Jesusita fire started at 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.

Authorities said the flames knocked out a transformer, triggering sporadic power outages in the city. School officials canceled today's classes at five schools.

-- Steve Chawkins

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