Thousands flee as wildfire rages

Fires rage Thursday through a Santa Barbara neighborhood, leaving a swath of destruction.
A wind-whipped wildfire raged on Thursday evening, scorching more than 2,700 acres in California, forcing more than 12,000 Santa Barbara County residents to evacuate, and damaged or destroyed at least 75 homes.

The fire, which started Tuesday, had engulfed mansions in the coastal community’s foothills. It was strengthened by low humidity, gusty winds and severe drought. The blaze was about 10 percent contained Thursday evening, said Theo Fallati, a spokesman for Santa Barbara County Emergency Operations Center. About 5,200 homes had been evacuated and 3,500 more were threatened, authorities said. More than 1,400 firefighters were battling the blaze and 10 had been injured, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, lauding their efforts. “Firefighters, thank you, thank you, thank you for your hard work,” he said. Earlier, fire officials had expressed how difficult it was to fight the blaze. “The fire is moving very, very rapidly,” Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. David Sadecki said Wednesday. “This is an uncontrolled wildfire.” Watch fire roar on hillsides ┬╗ The blaze comes about six months after the so-called Tea Fire destroyed about 200 homes in the Santa Barbara area. “It’s just horrible. We’re all in a panic here. It’s terrifying,” iReporter Exton Quinn said Thursday. Quinn said she and a friend were out shooting video Wednesday night when “all of a sudden, the wind changed and a house caught on fire just behind me.” Her duplex, on the edge of a mandatory evacuation zone, hadn’t burned. But the artist and architect said she was concerned as she headed for Los Angeles on Thursday morning. “I have hundreds of paintings, so I would just lose everything,” she said. Are you there Send photos, videos

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On Thursday morning, iReporter Adrian Casillas, a student at the University of California-Santa Barbara, said it felt more like evening. “I’m looking out toward the east, and it’s just a big cloud going from the coast all the way to the Channel Islands,” he said of smoke from the fire. “The sun is just rising, but it looks a little bit like sunset because the cloud is … covering the sun,” he said. Wildfires also were burning in Arizona near the Mexican border.

One blaze covered about 4,000 acres near the city of Sierra Vista. It had destroyed three homes and sent an area resident to the hospital with third-degree burns, according to the National Forest Service. Three other smaller fires in the area were largely or completely contained, fire officials said.