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Santa Barbara fire: 'Steady progress' as winds intensify

AEGNational Weather Service

Firefighters have made "really steady progress" on a blaze burning in Santa Barbara County but the once-calm winds are beginning to intensify, officials said Tuesday afternoon.

At last count, the White fire scorched about 1,800 acres in Los Padres National Forest and was 10% contained, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said. The fire, which broke out about 2:45 p.m. Monday, was burning into the Upper Oso area north of the Santa Ynez River and Paradise Road.

"Almost nonexistent" winds Tuesday morning allowed more than 900 personnel to attack the blaze by air and build fire lines, Madsen said. But forecasters warned of stronger sundowner winds across the county Tuesday evening, with gusts reaching 45 mph.

MAP: Santa Barbara wildfire

Madsen noted midafternoon that the winds "are starting to pick up."

"We're just keeping our fingers crossed that the winds remain kind of steady until we can get some more fire lines cut out there," he added.

Humidity levels were expected to drop Tuesday afternoon to about 35%, with temperatures reaching about 80 degrees, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. Overnight humidity levels would rise to about 80%, he said, with temperatures dipping into the 50s.

Wind whipped the fire Monday, sending embers up to three-fourths of a mile ahead of the main body of the blaze, Madsen said. It also prompted the evacuations of hundreds of campers, residents and Forest Service employees.

Madsen said the fire has since moved past those buildings. "It's burning back in the forest now," he said.

A Forest Service update said residents with proper identification would be allowed back into evacuated areas at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Some damage, however, has been reported. Flames reached a Forest Service outpost, burning one building and two vehicles, Madsen said. Some campgrounds along Paradise Road also were affected, but a damage assessment has not been completed yet, he said.

No injuries have been reported.

The White fire was burning in the same area scorched by the roughly 480-acre Rancho fire in 2007. It was also "burning toward the footprint" of the Zaca fire, Madsen said.

The Zaca fire was one of the largest in state history, burning almost 375 square miles of wilderness over nearly two months. That blaze cost an estimated $118 million to fight.

The White fire wasn't the only blaze keeping crews busy Tuesday. Two smaller fires flared in Southern California, scorching 55 acres near Magic Mountain in Valencia; and 10 near Chantry Circle in Simi Valley.

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