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Jesusita Fire at 10 percent containment

May 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara County laid down overnight, but the wind picked up again Thursday. The fire has damaged or destroyed at least 75 homes.The fire started Tuesday in San Roque Canyon and is moving below Foothill Road. About 2,739 acres have burned as firefighters from all over the state continue battling the Jesusita Fire.

"It's all dependent upon the wind. As we saw yesterday, we had a significant wind event. Another one is planned for today," said Capt. David Sadecki from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

There is 10 containment Thursday night.

Sadecki said they are expecting another significant wind event on Thursday, with low relative humidity and wind gusts up to 65 miles an hour.

"When it's really high winds, our helicopters can't fly because of the erratic winds, smoke conditions, and also, the fixed wings also can't fly," he said.

Some other challenges that firefighters face include steep terrain and narrow canyon roads.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County on Wednesday, freeing up money and resources immediately to fight the fire.

"We have a financial crisis in California, but I wanted to make sure that you all know that even though we have this crisis, we will not be short of money when it comes to fighting those fires. We will be there for you 100 percent," he said.

Schwarzenegger was briefed on the wildfire at the command center at the Earl Warren Showgrounds Thursday, where he also pitched for propositions on the May 19 ballot.

"If those initiatives fail, then there will be less money available, billions of dollars less, and that has to come from somewhere, so people should be aware of that, but I will fight for every dollar and always make sure that we have enough manpower and enough engines and helicopters ready to fight these fires," he said.

Eleven firefighters have been injured in the fire.

Three firefighters from Ventura County Fire were injured on Wednesday night and airlifted to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks. Two of the firefighters are being treated for moderate burns, and a third firefighter reportedly sustained smoke inhalation. All are in stable condition.

The firefighters were injured when their engine was overcome by flames. Officials said the firefighters were protecting homes caught in the path of the Jesusita Fire in the Mission Canyon area.

The firefighters were identified as 57-year-old Capt. Brian Bulger, 51-year-old Capt. Ron Topolinski and 44-year-old firefighter Robert Lopez.

The wildfire has forced more than 13,500 residents to flee.

Along Las Canoas Road, rubble remains where homes once stood after the wind-driven fire raced through the hillsides north of the city of Santa Barbara on Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters did what they could to protect homes in the area, but the danger on the ground forced them to retreat from some neighborhoods.

Much of the attack on the fast-moving fire was launched from the air.

Many residents of the area said they are still recovering from the fire that destroyed more than 200 homes in Montecito.

The American Red Cross has established an additional evacuation shelter at the Recreation Center (RecCen) on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara (Mesa Road and Ocean Drive). The Dos Pueblos High School Evacuation Shelter is at capacity. Displaced persons are encouraged to head to the Red Cross Shelter at UCSB and not to Dos Pueblos High School. Take Highway 217 to the campus and follow the Emergency Shelter signs.

Residents with large animals can go to the Earl Warren Showgrounds. The Santa Barbara Humane Society at Overpass Road and Patterson Avenue is no longer taking small animals. For more information on animal evacuations, call the Animal Services Hotline at (805) 682-4332. People who are physically unable to evacuate on their own can call the Jesusita Fire Call Center at (805) 681-5197.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Many homes have burned down along Tunnel Road, not far from the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. Most residents had evacuated hours before, but one couple stayed in their house, watching Wednesday night's firestorm come right up to their doorstep.

"There's a moment when I was getting frightened, didn't get to panic because I began to see these firemen putting out the fires. It was just amazing," said homeowner Al Lindemann.

Barbara and Al Lindemann had sprayed their house with fire retardant and had initially believed they could put out any spot fires on their property themselves. But as they watched the flames shoot through the canyons and surround their house, they were relieved that several firefighters were nearby.

"It came right within a foot of the house, but the firefighters were there. They took a stand about 20 feet away from the house and just kept the flames back from the house," said Barbara Lindemann.

"I think flames were licking the house," added Al Lindemann.

The Lindemanns have two pet donkeys that they released. One returned Thursday morning unharmed, and they're hoping to find the other one.

Though it was a tense night, their home was not damaged.

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