A wildfire fire fanned by record temperatures and strong winds has forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes in Southern California this week. According to California’s Department of Forestry and Fire, the Jesusita Fire started on May 5, 2009 and has burned more than 2,700 acres (4 square miles) so far. The fire department reported that 75 homes in the affluent Santa Barbara area, ranging from multi-million dollar mansions to more modest homes, have been destroyed or damaged, and 3,600 more are under threat. A state of emergency has been declared as the fire continues to spread quickly towards Santa Barbara’s more populated areas, below steep canyons.
The fire’s increasing strength prompted officials to order 6,000 more people to evacuate their homes on May 7, 2009. That pushed the total number of evacuated residents to about 18,000, officials said. Around 2,300 firefighters using helicopters and engines have been deployed to battle the flames. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the fire is proving extremely difficult to bring under control and at least 11 firefighters have been injured, three seriously. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but officials have not ruled out arson.
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Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County on May 6, 2009, a move that frees up funds and equipment to battle the flames. Calmer winds yesterday afternoon gave firefighters the chance to make some progress against the blaze. Firefighters also said they managed to establish containment-lines around 10 percent of the blaze by nightfall. However, reports said winds of up to 50 mph (80 kmph) returned overnight and they were driving the flames down the steep canyons above Santa Barbara towards northern areas of the city. Officials expanded evacuation orders to 18,000 residents on May 7, 2009 as gusty winds pushed the flames down towards more populated area of Santa Barbara and threatened residential areas.
According to the latest update from Santa Barbara County officials, 75 homes were destroyed or damaged in the foothills and canyons overlooking the city, with 3,500 more dwellings and about 100 businesses still threatened.
Reports said the Jesusita Fire started in the Santa Barbara foothills above San Roque Canyon near the Jesusita Trail on May 5, 2009. Weather conditions for the area are forecast to remain hot and sunny with little chance of rain, according to reports. Indeed, the National Weather Service forecast temperatures of up to 94 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) for today and extended an alert for powerful wind gusts until the weekend.
California is frequently hit by scorching wildfires due to its dry climate, Santa Ana winds and recent housing growth into rural and densely forested areas. In 2007, wildfires in Southern California left eight people dead, destroyed around 2,000 homes and displaced 640,000 people. The recent blaze also comes just six months after the Tea Fire destroyed about 200 homes in the celebrity enclave of Montecito near Santa Barbara.
Sources: BBC News, CNN News, Associated Press, California Department of Forestry, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters News
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