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Santa Barbara fire 80 percent contained

May 11, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The wildfire in Santa Barbara is 80 percent contained on Monday, and most evacuees have been allowed to return home.Full containment of the Jesusita Fire is expected on Wednesday, May 13.

Mandatory evacuations are still in effect on Painted Cave Road at Highway 154, Painted Cave Road to East Camino Cielo, East Camino Cielo to Highway 154 and Highway 154 to Painted Cave Road.

East Camino Cielo and Gibraltar Road remain closed.

Officials said about 375 people remain evacuated out of the roughly 30,000 previously evacuated.

The fire has scorched 8,733 acres and has destroyed at least 78 homes. Another 22 homes were damaged.

Investigators said the fire may have been sparked accidentally by the use of a power tool being used to clear brush on private property near the Jesusita Trail, a popular hiking spot.

The change in the weather helped firefighters over the weekend, but there is still work to be done.

The fire caused massive destruction in the hillside areas above the city of Santa Barbara.

Firefighters encourage residents to remove brush to protect their homes from wildfires, but say homeowners need to follow some guidelines.

"When they're mowing, they're supposed to have an extinguisher; they're supposed to have a lookout so it doesn't happen; they're supposed to do it early in the morning, not in the afternoon," said David Sadecki from Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

"We saw a guy in the middle of the afternoon on a hot day mowing a big field with a tractor. He thought he was doing something good. He was, but he was doing it at the inappropriate time."

The Jesusita Fire is expected to be fully contained by Wednesday, but officials are concerned with wind that may return Tuesday.

The cost of the fire's damage has been estimated at $12.2 million.

A charred truck is one vivid reminder of resident Grant Finn's terrifying experience during the wildfire.

Finn had driven down a fiery road in his truck, trying to escape the Jesusita Fire.

"I knew something was wrong because it felt like my back was on fire driving it down here, and sure enough, it was," he said.

Finn was not harmed, and firefighters were able to put out the flames inside his truck.

Finn lives in a guesthouse of a home along Palomino Road. When the fire started raging through the hillsides last Tuesday night, Finn said he and his landlord got stuck on the property.

"I got stuck in the guesthouse, and I could see trees and stuff on fire all around the guesthouse and the main house, and it was getting smokier in there, and we ended up, eventually, getting rescued," he said.

Firefighters managed to save their home, but several large homes in their neighborhood were destroyed.

Finn said he had packed a lot of his belongings in his truck in preparation to evacuate, but said he wishes he had left before the situation became so dangerous.

"I'm not sure what my losses really are, but there's definitely losses, but not nearly as much as, some of our neighbors lost everything," he said.

"It's hard to feel bad about this when you see so much other devastation around."

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