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Power tools sparked Jesusita Fire

May 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Santa Barbara fire officials said the massive 'Jesusita Fire' that destroyed 77 homes and damaged 22 other houses was sparked by power tools being used to clear vegetation.The news came as thousands of other residents moved back into their homes as mandatory evacuation orders were downgraded to evacuation warnings.

The Jesusita fire, which has burned through an area of more than 13 square miles, was 65 percent contained Sunday afternoon after moist air flowed in from the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, blocking the hot, dry wind known as the "sundowner" that had contributed to the fire's spread.

Residents returning home were warned they should remain alert in case conditions worsen again, but the wind was not expected to return for at least another day.

The dramatically cooler, damper weather this weekend has allowed firefighters to make steady progress in containing the fire. By Sunday morning, the temperature at Santa Barbara was just 56 degrees and humidity was 86 percent, the National Weather Service said. Sunday's forecast was for a high of just 65 to 75, about 20 degrees cooler than last week's weather.

The weather service had dropped its fire weather warnings Saturday and predicted that clouds and fog would continue through Monday morning. It said the sundowner wind blowing down from the Santa Ynez range wouldn't returned before Monday night, and then only weakly to moderately.

Authorities say the Jesusita fire has burned 8,733 acres and it was estimated to be fully contained by Wednesday. More than 90 homes have been damaged or destroyed and 362 residents remain under mandatory evacuation orders. The cost of the fire's damage has been estimated at $9 million.

More than 30,000 people had been under mandatory evacuation orders since the fire erupted Tuesday just above Santa Barbara on the face of the steep Santa Ynez Mountains.

28 firefighters have reported injuries.

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