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Crews begin to contain huge California wildfire

A wildfire above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in Montecito, California (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
A wildfire above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in Montecito, California (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Firefighters are finally making progress in the titanic task of cutting fire lines around one of the biggest blazes in California history.

As the blaze straddling Santa Barbara and Ventura counties entered its 10th day, crews had carved containment lines around a quarter of it.

But the wildfire still raged on Tuesday, threatening thousands of homes and stranding tens of thousands of evacuees.

The so-called Thomas fire, one of several around the state, has burned more than 900 structures, at least 700 of them homes. And it has stretched across nearly 370 square miles (958 sq km) of territory, making it the fifth largest in state history.

Elsewhere, fire officials announced that a cooking fire at a homeless encampment sparked a blaze last week that destroyed six homes in the Bel Air neighbourhood of Los Angeles.

Arson investigators determined that the so-called Skirball fire near the world-famous Getty museum was started by an illegal fire at a camp near a freeway underpass, city fire Captain Erik Scott said.

The camp was empty when firefighters found it but people had apparently been sleeping and cooking there for at least several days, he said.

Back at the largest of the wildfires, firefighters protected foothill homes while the blaze grew mostly into forest land, Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.

Red Flag warnings for fire danger due to Santa Ana winds and a critical lack of moisture were extended into the week, with a possible increase in gusts on Thursday and into Friday.

Evacuations continued for the seaside enclaves of Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria and the inland agricultural town of Fillmore.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Eric Burdon and his wife, Marianna, from Ojai, were among the people who fled the smoke on Tuesday. Last week, Burdon wrote on Facebook about having to flee and returning temporarily to find their home still standing with ashes all around.

"A week like this gives you the perspective that life is what truly matters," he wrote.

A photo accompanying the post showed his handprint and signature written in ashes.

Residents near a Carpinteria avocado orchard said the trees could end up saving their homes.

"You have a thick layer of leaves underneath the bottom and they are watered regularly, so it's like a sponge," Jeff Dreyer, who lives nearby, told KEYT-TV. "So the fire gets to the sponge full of water and it slows it down."

Officials handed out masks to those who stayed behind in Montecito, an exclusive community about 75 miles (120km) from Los Angeles that is home to stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Drew Barrymore. Actor Rob Lowe was among residents who evacuated over the weekend.



From Belfast Telegraph