The deadly wildfire that has scorched the US state of California for nearly two weeks still raged on Saturday and threatened a wealthy community northwest of Los Angeles, prompting new evacuations in Santa Barbara County.
The so-called Thomas Fire, now ranked the third largest wildfire in modern history of California, was moving rapidly and now took aim at the hills above Montecito, known for its luxury resorts and mansions of celebrities, Xinhua reported.
Taking advantage of a lull in winds in last Wednesday to Friday, firefighters cleared contained areas along the westernmost edge of the giant blaze to stop the wildfire from approaching communities at foothills, Tony Pighetti, a captain of the Santa Barbara fire department.
However, fuelled by a new blast of Santa Ana winds which were predicted to hit the area through Sunday with gusts of 65 mph (110 kph), the Thomas Fire moved northward fast Saturday morning, with flame seen on top of hill over the town.
Kelly Hoover, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s spokeswoman, said authorities dispatched hundreds of crews to Montecito, checking the communities door to door and ordering residents to leave the evacuation zone.
She warned that the situation was really dangerous for their lives since the Santa Ana winds mixed with the Sundowner, a northerly offshore wind in Santa Barbara.
“When the sundowners surface in that area and the fire starts running down slopes, you are not going to stop it,” Mark Brown, an operations section chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) was quoted as saying.
“And we are not going to stand in front of it and put firefighters in untenable situations,” he added.
A sundowner is particularly dangerous during wildfire season because the air heats and dries as it descends from the mountains to the sea.
Pictures posted on Twitter pages showed that platoons of fire trucks awaited orders with their engines running in parking lots of public schools, churches and other designated safety zones Saturday morning.