California wildfires spread, 30,000 forced to flee (Lead)

May 9th, 2009 - 1:06 am ICT by IANS  

Arnold Schwarzenegger Los Angeles, May 8 (DPA) Fanned by strong winds, a raging spring wildfire near Santa Barbara grew Friday, prompting the evacuation of 30,000 people as it spread towards the city centre.
California fire officials said that 75 houses had been consumed by the blaze that had burnt roughly 1,400 hectares and was only 10 percent contained. With more strong winds forecast for Friday there was no indication of when the fire might be controlled.

About 2,300 firefighters, as well as 246 engines, 10 air tankers and 15 helicopters, were fighting the fire. The cause remained unknown.

The Jesusita fire was ignited Tuesday but exploded out of control Wednesday, fed by winds of up to 80 km an hour, which sent glowing clouds of embers and thick blankets of smoke across the Pacific coast mountainsides and towards the densely populated town centre and the Pacific Ocean.

Coming so early in the season, the destructive fire in areas of luxury homes has underscored the growing threat facing California as climate change makes wildfires hotter, bigger and more frequent. The fire came six months after a blaze in the same area burned more than 200 houses. It was the third blaze there in nine months.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency Wednesday and toured the site of the fire Thursday. Ten firefighters were injured when the blaze overran their engine. “This fire has been a great challenge, there’s no two ways about it,” he said during a tour of the area.

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