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Santa Barbara fire flares

Zaca blaze roars back to life and moves toward the city, prompting evacuation orders for neighborhoods and recreation areas.

August 04, 2007|James Ricci | Times Staff Writer

The reawakened Zaca fire northwest of Santa Barbara burned southeast Friday, prompting the mandatory evacuation of several neighborhoods and recreational sites.

An evacuation warning issued about 2 p.m. by fire officials was replaced by an evacuation order two hours later as the 20-mile-long, 38,400-acre fire flared in the Los Padres National Forest.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mike Ferris estimated that 500 to 800 people had evacuated or begun doing so. "We can't be more precise because we don't know how many people were out there recreating," he said. "We know at the Los Prietos Boys Camp there were about 100, plus staff."

Because of the roadless nature of the exceptionally dry wilderness area, firefighters have had to battle the blaze primarily by airlifting crews onto ridges and making aerial water drops.

A Red Cross emergency shelter with medical attendants and 400 beds opened at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta. As of Friday evening, however, no evacuees had shown up.

"We've had several people call in but none have come in," said shelter manager Tom Dyer.

"Most have just called to let us know they've evacuated and found other accommodations."

The shelter also included accommodations for small and large animals on the school's athletic fields and in cages near the sleeping quarters.

Arrangements were made for the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo Ground to take any overflow of horses and other farm animals.

Facilities for animals were crucial, Ferris said, because experience has shown that people are reluctant to evacuate if they must leave pets behind.

In addition, many people in the area keep horses. The recreational camp Rancho Oso "has a big problem," Ferris said. "They probably had a hundred or 200 horses there."

The fire, which began July 4, had been 80% contained on July 28. By Friday evening, after it had flared anew, the blaze was 70% contained, according to fire officials.

Although it had burned about 400 additional acres by the time of the evacuation order, the Zaca fire had breached no protective "contingency" lines cleared by firefighters.

Diane Tuttle, a resident of the Painted Cave community a few miles from the mandatory evacuation area, said her family had removed "carloads of stuff, and right now we're filling every vessel we can find with water."

"I've also got a fire extinguisher," she said.

"Some people have bought two, but if you need two, you're in denial."

With the southeast shift of the blaze, ash has been falling like snow as far south as Santa Barbara, she said.

"The wind came up this afternoon and it's a different wind," Tuttle said. "Suddenly the sky turned brown and reddish-black. And we have this afternoon begun getting little pieces of charred wood falling. And everybody in Santa Barbara is saying, 'Is that fire still going?' "

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james.ricci@latimes.com

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