Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 11:54 UK

California fire: Your experiences

A house burns in the hills above Santa Barbara
This house overlooking Santa Barbara was one of the casualties of the fire

California residents have been emailing the BBC with their eyewitness accounts of the fierce wildfire that is threatening the town of Santa Barbara.

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

Read a selection of your accounts below. If you have been affected by the blaze, you can send us your experiences by using this form.


Ash has been falling like snow since Wednesday. I watched planes as they dropped ammonium sulphate into a mountain-sized plume of smoke on my way to school. I've lived in Santa Barbara for a year and a half, and this is the third or fourth wildfire since I arrived. I work downtown, and the flames are constantly looming overhead. The power has been going out intermittently. I've never heard the word "apocalyptic" used so many times in one day.
Peter Staggs, Santa Barbara, California

Although I have not been forced to evacuate yet, the air is full of smoke. At the same time, it is unbearably stuffy and you can hear the helicopters and planes fighting the fires. It's impossible to sleep, despite it being 0200 as I write this.
Robert Helan, Santa Barbara, California

Smoke is clogging up the air so we took our asthmatic daughter out of town to stay at a friend's house in nearby Carpinteria. Santa Barbara's air is stiflingly hot and the air quality is poor. Fortunately winds seem lower than they were on Wednesday. Everything depends on the weather, luck and the tireless work of the firefighters. Wish us luck.
John Gomm, Santa Barbara

I am on holiday here in Santa Barbara and arrived on the day the fire started. I am staying downtown near the beach, but we can see the flames in the hills. We can see great columns of smoke and when the wind changes direction it gets very smoky even here. Ashes rain down and everything gets covered in a film of ash and it is harder to breathe. The clothes I have on all smell strongly of smoke. A lot of restaurants and tourist attractions are closed because staff have to go home and evacuate. We have had several power cuts over the last few days. Our hotel is now full with evacuees, some of them bringing their pets with them. The hotel is offering them lower rates and allowing pets because of the fires, so there is a real sense of drama here.
Julia Booton, Santa Barbara, California

I am a student at UC Santa Barbara and the fire is threatening many of the professors and students in the area. The winds are blowing the fire downtown and experts are saying that it might soon jump the freeway and head towards the coast. Our phones are not working properly because the fire has consumed a lot of the transmitters and the night sky has been glowing red for a few days now. The whole situation is rather disconcerting.
Charlotte King, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

Today the air quality is awful: Thick with ash falling. It is already 95 degrees in the shade! I am in the downtown area, next to the only hospital in Santa Barbara. The smoke and flames in the burning area are visible from my road. The fire fighters are true heroes here. Everybody in Southern California loves and respects these people. The winds have died down for the moment. There is a lot of sadness and shock this morning, especially as day broke to show us the devastation - this is the third wildfire to hit us in the last year.
Emma-Jane Huerta, Santa Barbara, California


I am British but have lived in the foothills above Santa Barbara for 26 years. I was told that smoke was coming from Mission Canyon so I raced home as did my wife and two children. We were quickly put under an evacuation warning by the police department. Everyone in the area left in an orderly fashion. It was quite worrying as the winds were strong and bending the tree tops with a lot of smoke and ash as raining down as usual. We found a motel and holed up there for the night.

The next day it had got much hotter. I took a walk up the street and the smoke was billowing with big black clouds, columns of fire springing up everywhere. All the power went out downtown. The way the wind was blowing I could see it coming down from our area and burning right through downtown to the harbour. It was that bad. Everyone evacuated the city at the same time. The roads were grid locked with this huge pall of smoke hanging over us, ash raining down. My wife and children were at the motel preparing to evacuate again! I was pretty scared. It took me over an hour to get to the motel, a trip that would normally take 5 minutes. I stood on the balcony of the motel and saw our hill covered in smoke and flames. We literally cried because we could see no way our house could be spared.

We headed in convoy down to a local bar at the beach and had a couple of margaritas to toast my birthday while we were convinced our house was toast but at least we were alive. Many friends had offered us refuge so we stayed with friends who live near the beach, on a hill well away from the fire zone. We could see our neighbourhood. To our joy we could see all the houses immediately above us intact. The fire still rages but I am at work which is something of a comfort as I have access to the outside world. All schools are closed and many businesses are closed and the town is like a war zone with hundreds and hundreds of fire trucks arriving throughout the night.
John Holman, Santa Barbara, California, USA

The winds appear to have died down and the smoke has gotten much better but they say the fire is still not under control. Most schools have been cancelled because of air quality and athletics are also cancelled. Other than that the fire still seems to be burning but less intense than yesterday.
Keenan Orfalea, Santa Barbara, USA

My family owns a few businesses in town, including a pharmacy in the evacuation area. We had to close two hours early due to the fire, at which point we went to our residential home in the hills and began throwing together all of our personal belongings. This is the second time in six months we have been in a mandatory evacuation area, so we were more prepared but no less frightened. We spent the night at a friends house watching the fire surge out of control, creeping closer and closer to our home. With the town shrouded in darkness, sirens blazing and helicopters flying overhead it literally felt like we were in a war zone.
Torian Thomasco, Santa Barbara, California

This has to be the worst fire I've seen in my 17 years of living in Santa Barbara. I saw the first flare-up today and watched it grow to the monster it is now. We are anything but out of the woods with the high sun-downer winds we are having. There are many structures that have been destroyed and many more will burn too. Downtown Santa Barbara has been evacuated as many explosions have rocked this quiet seaside town. There will be very little sleep in this not so sleepy town tonight.
Ron Brand Jr, Santa Barbara, California

I am officially in the mandatory watch area. That means that I should get packed up and be ready to move out upon being given the order. But if the fire starts being driven by the erratic winds, it will burn all the way to the beach and that will be that. There will be no place to hide from nature in that case. My pick-up truck is covered with white-ish soot, and after this is over, I'll have to vacuum out the insides just like I did after the last fire, the Tea Fire.
Michael P Jogoleflfll, Santa Barbara, California

I was hiking in Rattlesnake Canyon, Santa Barbara, with my little girl and her friend on Wednesday when I noticed the ground started to turn orange. I knew at once it was the sun filtering through smoke. I slowly but surely exited the canyon so as to not panic the youngsters. We got safely off the mountain. But since then the fire has engulfed the area we were in. Our hearts go out to our neighbours - those who have suffered loss in this incident. It's sad but befitting that our lovely town is named after the patron saint of all those in danger of sudden death, with the sometimes unexplainable forces of nature and coincidence very active here.
Jubes, Santa Barbara, California

I live in downtown Santa Barbara and it's been two days since the blaze started. It began as a small plume of smoke but now huge clouds of gray ash are falling on the city. The fumes block out the sun and cause an eerie orange glow over everything. The fires seem to be spotted all along the ridges overlooking the city and the heavy winds are blowing them south down the mountain towards the downtown area.

The air is so hot and dry and the sound of helicopters and sirens are constant. A friend lives up in the hills and just saw his street on the news, completely on fire. We're crossing our fingers for all in the evacuation area, but right now the situation is very serious and so is the danger.
Lauren Anne, Santa Barbara, California

I lived in the Santa Barbara area for a long time and still live near it. One of the most difficult things in a wildfire is keeping up with current information such as evacuation orders. The most difficult thing is breathing. As someone with respiratory problems I'm glad I'm not there right in the thick of things this time.

I am used to California wildfires appearing in different parts of the state during fire season, which I associate with the hot months of September and October, after the long normally dry summer has dried the brush to a crackling point. But I am not used to three wildfires in my hometown area in less than a year (Gap Fire, Tea Fire, and this one - now known as the Jesusita Fire) or fires close to Thanksgiving last autumn, and now early in May.
Pamela Gross, Santa Maria, California


Reader Christian Geitner's view of the fire from La Cumbre, near Santa Barbara, on Wednesday

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