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Crews hope to finish corraling Santa Barbara fire

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Firefighters worked Tuesday to surround the remnants of a wildfire that has gutted 78 homes before gusty winds returned that could drive it once more into wealthy neighborhoods.

The week-old blaze was 80 percent contained and there was little but smoldering remains after several days of cooler, more humid weather and morning fog.

However, the National Weather Service forecast winds to pick up in the later afternoon with gusts to 40 mph in the evening. A fire watch for blustery winds and low humidity was in effect from late afternoon through Thursday.

Although the fire was expected to be fully contained on Wednesday, dozens of homes still were considered threatened Tuesday and about 360 evacuees were not being allowed back home.

Sparks from a power tool being used to clear brush is suspected of igniting the fire on May 5 near the Jesusita Trail above Santa Barbara on slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

The fire moved slowly through dry brush until sundowner winds a day later drove it into explosive action.

The 8,733-acre fire — equal to about 13 1/2 square miles — destroyed 78 homes and damaged 22 others, according to county estimates. Sixty outbuildings were also destroyed and 69 others were damaged.

The fire injured 28 firefighters. Most of the injuries were minor but a two Ventura County firefighters were burned and a third suffered smoke inhalation when they were trapped in a burning home they had tried to protect.

Firefighter Robert Lopez, 44, of Port Hueneme, was the only one still hospitalized. He had second- and third-degree burns over 15 percent of his body and was scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday.

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