Page last updated at 07:16 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 08:16 UK

Californians flee deadly wildfire


Morning reveals the full extent of the wildfires

Thousands of people in California have left their homes as a wildfire threatens the town of Santa Barbara.

The rapidly-moving blaze has burned nearly 3,000 acres, leading California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency.

The fire is proving extremely difficult to bring under control, the governor said during a tour of the area.

More than 70 homes have been damaged and some 15,000 residents evacuated as the blaze continues for a third day.

A further 3,500 homes remain threatened and thousands more residents are being told to get ready to leave, officials say.

At least 10 firefighters have been injured, three seriously, in the blaze which is being investigated as possible arson.

We really can't do any containment lines - it's too dangerous
David Sadecki
Santa Barbara County Fire Dept

Santa Barbara, with its idyllic climate and lush countryside, is often referred to as the American Riviera.

Since Wednesday, the fire has moved ever nearer to the seaside town.

TV pictures have shown flames destroying several large hillside properties in the exclusive region.

'Extreme weather'

"We really can't do any containment lines. It's too dangerous," Capt David Sadecki of the Santa Barbara Fire Department told the Associated Press news agency.

Firefighting crews have been reinforced, with some 2,300 firefighters tackling the blaze, which has blackened at least 2,700 acres (1,100 hectares).

The flames have been fanned by record temperatures and strong winds of up to 50mph (80km/h), and fire officials are worried about unpredictable local "sundowner" gusts of wind, often seen at sunset.

In declaring a state of emergency, Mr Schwarzenegger has released funds to pay for the fire fighting effort.

"This fire has been a great challenge, there's no two ways about it," he said.

"The 50mph winds, the lack of access to the terrain and the dense brush - all this creates great challenges."

Weather forecasters say that after a lull, the winds are likely to pick up again, the BBC's Peter Bowes in Los Angeles reports.

Exhausted firefighters will be tackling this blaze well into the weekend, our correspondent says.

Map of Santa Barbara evacuation zone

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Sydney Morning Herald Thousands flee California fires - 51 mins ago
Wenatchee WorldWind gusts push wildfire to edge of city - 1 hr ago
Yahoo! News Australia Firies battle wind-fed California blaze - 1 hr ago
New York Times Crews Gain Upper Hand on Santa Barbara Fire - 1 hr ago
Reuters Africa Fierce California wildfire burns into fourth night - 2 hrs ago
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