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Weather delays containment of Calif. wildfire

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – A new round of dry, windy weather could cause a week’s delay in full containment of the Santa Barbara wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes, firefighters said Wednesday.

Wind gusts reached 45 mph in the Montecito hills Wednesday evening and humidity dropped, forecasters said. Wind warnings were in effect until Thursday morning, with temperatures to reach the 80s in the foothills.

The wind could push flames into areas where about 45 homes are still threatened, said Harry Hagen, a Santa Barbara County emergency operations center spokesman. Those homes were evacuated last week and more than 100 residents have not been allowed to return.

“We are on full alert, expecting that the disaster and our preparedness will continue,” Hagen said.

Crews were able to contain about 80 percent of the fire before the forecast of unfavorable weather led them to move the estimated date of full containment back to May 20.

The blaze has been essentially static through days of cooler, humid weather marked by morning coastal fog.

The fire started on May 5 and blackened more than 13 square miles, destroyed 80 homes, damaged 15 and injured 29 firefighters. Investigators said it may have been caused by someone clearing brush with a power tool.

The fire has been contained in the most populated areas. About 30,000 people were forced out of their homes during the firefight and thousands more were warned to be ready to go. Most evacuation orders were lifted late last week.

“The area that’s left to contain is the most difficult … extremely steep and very tall brush,” Sadecki said. “The crews that are in there are having a very difficult time.”

Meanwhile, a wildfire near Homer, Alaska, blackened about half a square mile Wednesday after being sparked the night before by a downed power line. The fire, which was fanned by a steady breeze, forced about 40 people from their homes.

Homer is about 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.

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