More than 1,000 campers and up to 4,000 residents fled the mountains of Santa Barbara County as a fast-moving wildfire swept through part of the Los Padres National Forest and surrounding areas, officials said Monday.
The White fire broke out about 2:45 p.m. in the rugged terrain about 12 miles north of Santa Barbara and by evening had grown to about 1,000 acres and blanketed the tourist city with smoke and a dusting of ash.
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No homes had burned but up to 5,000 people were ordered to evacuate before the fire changed course and headed toward unpopulated terrain, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen. He said the fire was about 5% contained in the evening.
The fire also swept through a Forest Service outpost, damaging a building and partially burning a service vehicle, Madsen said. Firefighters were not there — they were out fighting the fire.
“It ran right through our compound,” Madsen said.
Four water tanker aircraft and two helicopters that battled the blaze in the afternoon were grounded as night fell, fire officials said.
The American Red Cross set up an evacuation center, and another center was set up for displaced horses which were then put up in area stables. However, Madsen said he doubted that many people would use the centers because it looked as if they would be able to return home late Monday.
Winds were expected to worsen somewhat during the night, but fire officials said they may get help from the weather as the humidity rises and temperatures fall.
The fire forced the closure of Paradise Road, which runs up a canyon dotted with campsites in the popular recreation area.
Firefighters from several cities, Santa Barbara County and the U.S. Forest Service were battling the blaze, which appeared to have started at a campsite.
Witnesses reported seeing a giant plume of smoke rising over the mountains and blanketing Santa Barbara, where health officials were urging residents to stay inside because of the poor air quality.
"The sky was completely red, and you could just see red sunlight coming through,” resident Michael Devlin, 43, said. “It’s pretty scary.
“I’ve got my little dog, and he’s ready if I need to pack him to leave,” Devlin added.