Wildfire destroys 70 homes in California
AFP - 48 minutes ago
LOS ANGELES (AFP) - - Wind-swept flames have destroyed at least 70 homes in the swank celebrity community of Montecito in southern California, as an army of firefighters battled the blaze on Friday.
The fire in the seaside town northeast of Los Angeles, where celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Michael Douglas and Rob Lowe own sprawling estates, broke out at dusk on Thursday.
Flames driven by wind gusts of up to 113 kilometers (70 miles per hour) quickly overwhelmed firefighters.
By midnight (0800 GMT Friday) the blaze had razed at least 70 homes and scorched some 320 hectares (800 acres), spokeswoman Terri Nisich with the San Barbara County executive office told KCAL-9 television.
At least four people were injured, Nisich said.
A blackout plunged much of the area into darkness soon after the fire broke out. Television images showed enormous flames lighting the sky as they engulfed multi-million dollar houses.
Santa Barbara County officials told KCAL that 125 engines, more than 1,000 firefighters from nearby communities and three water-dropping helicopters were battling the blaze.
Firefighters negotiated narrow roads in the hillside community, where powerlines often dangled dangerously low, to reach the fast moving fire.
The strong wind whipped up clouds of burning embers that helped spread the blaze southwest towards the city of Santa Barbara, local media reported.
Montecito -- located some 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of Los Angeles -- is famous for its seaside views and for being home to celebrities.
It includes talk show queen Winfrey's 17-hectare (42 acre) estate where she famously hosted a fundraising reception for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama during the Democratic party primaries.
"I have so many concerns," Terry McElwee, operation chief for the Montecito Fire Department, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's just moving so fast right now ... We're having trouble rounding up enough resources."
Firefighters from Santa Barbara County, the city of Santa Barbara, Montecito, Carpinteria, and the California Department of Forestry were battling the flames, the Times reported.
The last major fire in the area was in 1977, when more than 200 homes went up in flames, according to KCAL.
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Firefighters battle a blaze near Los Angeles in October 2008. The Santa Barbara authorities said powerful winds helped spread a brush fire that destroyed some 70 homes in the wealthy California community of Montecito.
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