A wildfire raced across the hills above the California city of Santa Barbara early Tuesday, prompting evacuation orders and drawing hundreds of firefighters who are trying to stop the flames from reaching homes.
The Cave Fire started in the Santa Ynez Mountains a few miles northwest of Santa Barbara late Monday afternoon and had scorched about 4,100 acres by early Tuesday, Santa Barbara County fire officials said.
The fire, stoked by winds, has threatened structures including multimillion-dollar homes and ranchettes. So far no homes have been burned, Santa Barbara County Fire spokesman Mike Eliason told CNN.
Officials said the fire was advancing toward populated areas in and near the cities of Santa Barbara, home to about 92,000 people, and Goleta, with about 31,000 people. It was 0% contained early Tuesday, officials said.
Evacuation warnings and orders were issued Monday night for areas north of Santa Barbara on either side of California State Route 154.
One Twitter user posted terrifying footage as they drove through the inferno.
“Please stay safe for anyone living close to the 154 and to the firefighters up there right now,” the user said. “Just made it down safely and my eyes still can’t believe what’s happening.”
The fire’s cause wasn’t immediately known.
Fire threatening power transmission lines
Santa Barbara County declared an emergency late Monday, saying in a news release that the fire was beyond the capabilities of the county’s firefighters to control alone.
Help has arrived from outside the county. A Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter, for instance, dropped wateronto areas near homes, “stopping those flames as they advanced on those homes,” Eliason told CNN affiliate KSBY.
Fixed-wing aircraft will drop retardant in the area during daylight Tuesday, Eliason told KSBY.
The fire also is threatening Southern California Edison’s main transmission lines that provide electricity to the southern portion of Santa Barbara County, officials said.
Some lesser lines have been intentionally powered down because of the fire, Eliason told KSBY. About 90 customers were without electricity service early Tuesday, according to the outage-tracking website poweroutage.us.
While California utilities in recent months have proactively cut power to lessen the chances of wildfires during harsh weather conditions, Santa Barbara’s outages were not planned before the fire happened, county officials said.
Rain is expected, raising concerns about runoff
Rain is likely in the Santa Barbara area from late Tuesday into Thursday, the National Weather Service says.
While that could help extinguish some hotspots, it also could lead to dangerous runoff — debris and mud flowing across freshly burned areas onto roads, Eliason told KSBY.
Because runoff could flow onto the 154 highway, Eliason suggested that commuters consider approaching Santa Barbara via US 101 instead.
“It doesn’t take a lot to impact 154 on a normal rainy day, but with all this (potential) runoff, it’s going to create a big problem for drivers,” he told KSBY.
Santa Barbara City College canceled classes Tuesday and Wednesday because of the fire, as a precaution. Primary and secondary schools in the area already were closed this week for Thanksgiving break.